What is the Red Nucleus?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2018
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The red nucleus is a structure located in the area of the brain known as the rostral midbrain. This is the smallest area of the brain. The red nucleus is a quite prominent structure made up of a group of cells. This structure plays a part in movement, primarily that involving motor coordination of the upper arm and shoulder.

The red nucleus is actually a mass of cells that tends to have a bit of a pinkish color in fresh brain specimens. This mass of cells is found in the mesencephalic tegmentum area of the midbrain. This part of the brain extends from what is known as the substantia nigra to the cerebral aqueduct.

The substantia nigra is the part of the midbrain associated with the production of dopamine. Dopamine is crucial to the functioning of the central nervous system. Parkinson's disease often develops when there are abnormalities or diseases affecting this area of the brain.

The cerebral aqueduct is a short canal located in the midbrain that extends from the third to the fourth ventricle of the brain. This canal contains cerebrospinal fluid. If it becomes clogged for any reason, a condition known as hydrocephalus may develop. This is basically a swelling of the brain due to too much cerebrospinal fluid.


Little is known about the precise functioning of the red nucleus in humans. It is believed that this area of the brain is not used as much in humans as it is in other animals. The function of the red nucleus continues to be studied. With that said, there does exist some reliable information in addition to well-developed medical theories concerning the importance of this brain structure.

The red nucleus is known to aid babies when learning to crawl. It is also believed to be responsible for the swinging motion made by the arms when a person walks. Some hand movements may also be at least partially controlled by the red nucleus.

While there are no reported cases of brain lesions affecting only the red nucleus, this area of the brain is sometimes affected when a lesion develops anywhere in the mesencephalic tegmentum part of the brain. When this occurs, motor skills may become compromised. This presents primarily through involuntary trembling, especially in the arms and hands.

The functions of many areas of the brain are still being studied by scientists and other medical professionals. There are constant new developments in this field as these areas of the brain become more understood. The red nucleus is no exception, and exciting new medical developments are certain to arise from this field of study.


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