What Is the Anatomy of the Brainstem?

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  • Written By: L.K. Blackburn
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 13 August 2019
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The anatomy of the brainstem is responsible for basic life functions. It includes the midbrain, pons, and medulla oblongata. The anatomy of the brainstem is part of the body that connects the brain to the spinal cord and the rest of the nervous system. Breathing, blood pressure, and digestion are functions handled by the anatomy contained as part the brainstem.

Vision and hearing are controlled by the portion of the brainstem known as the midbrain, located directly underneath the cerebral cortex. The substantia nigra of the basal ganglia is located in this area of the brain. Dopamine is produced in this region, and the area also controls movement. The red nucleus in the midbrain communicates with motor neurons. Consciousness and alertness are controlled through the reticular formation located in this section.

Further below the midbrain in the anatomy of the brainstem is the pons area. Interpretation of hearing sensory information is processed here. The pons also has connections to the cerebellum and influences movement. A primary function of the pons structure is to connect the cerebral cortex and the medulla oblongata. Necessary automatic functions, such as sleep, breathing, yawning, and blinking, are regulated from the structures that connect with this section.


A third major piece of the anatomy of the brainstem is the medulla oblongata. It is the bottom part of the brainstem and controls the regulation of vomiting, heart and blood function, and digestion. There are two main parts of the medulla oblongata known as the superior and the inferior. The bottom section of the structure connects directly to the nerves within the top of the spinal cord. Blood flow passes through here to reach and oxygenate the rest of the brain.

Cranial nerve bundles are also part of the brainstem anatomy. Different nerves connect to different parts, and large bundles each control specific functions of the brain and body. Each part controls motor skills, interprets sensory information, and communicates with the cerebellum.

Disease and lesions can inflict the anatomy of the brainstem by causing headaches, speech problems, facial drooping, and hearing loss. Tumors are diagnosed through the use of the a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. Diseases in the area cause weakness in the muscles, vertigo, and swallowing issues. Most cranial nerves are connected through the brainstem, so issues in this area are very serious and can cause major life disruption issues.


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