The central nervous system (CNS) is composed of the brain and spinal cord. The brain receives sensory information from the nerves that pass through the spinal cord, as well as other nerves such as those from sensory organs involved in sight and smell. Once received, the brain processes the sensory signals and initiates responses. The spinal cord is the principle route for the passage of sensory information to and from the brain.
Information flows to the central nervous system from the peripheral nervous system, which senses signals from the environment outside the body (sensory-somatic nervous system) and from the internal environment (autonomic nervous system). The brain's responses to incoming information flow through the spinal cord nerve network to the various effector organs and tissue regions where the target responsive action will take place.
The brain is divided into three major anatomical regions, the prosencephalon (forebrain), mesencephalon (midbrain), and the rhombencephalon (hindbrain). The brain also contains a ventricular system, which consists of four ventricles (internal cavities): two lateral ventricles, a third ventricle, and a fourth ventricle. The ventricles are filled with cerebrospinal fluid and are continuous with the spinal canal. The ventricles are connected via two interventricular foramen (connecting the two lateral ventricles to the third venticle), and a cerebral aqueduct (connecting the third ventricle to the fourth ventricle).
The brain and spinal cord are covered by three layers of meninges (dura matter, arachnoid matter, and pia mater) that dip into the many folds and fissures. The meninges are three sheets or layers of connective tissue that cover all of the spinal cord and the brain. Infections of the meninges are called meningitis. Bacterial, viral, and protozoan meningitis are serious and require prompt medical attention. Between the arachnoid and the pia matter is a fluid called the cerebrospinal fluid. Bacterial infections of the cerebrospinal fluid can occur and are life-threatening.
GROSS ANATOMY OF THE BRAIN The prosencephalon is divided into the diencephalon and the telencephalon (also known as the cerebrum). The cerebrum contains the two large bilateral hemispherical cerebral cortex that are responsible for the intellectual functions and house the neural connections that integrate, personality, speech, and the interpretation of sensory data related to vision and hearing.
The midbrain, or mesencephalon region, serves as a connection between higher and lower brain functions, and contains a number of centers associated with regions that create strong drives to certain behaviors. The midbrain is involved in body movement. The so-called pleasure center is located here, which has been implicated in the development of addictive behaviors.
The rhombencephalon, consisting of the medulla oblongata, pons, and cerebellum, is an area largely devoted to lower brain functions, including autonomic functions involved in the regulation of breathing and general body coordination. The medulla oblongata is a cone-like knot of tissue that lies between the spinal cord and the pons. A median fissure (deep, convoluted fold) separates swellings (pyramids) on the surface of the medulla. The pons (also known as the metencephalon) is located on the anterior surface of the cerebellum and is continuous with the superior portion of the medulla oblongata. The pons contains large tracts of transverse fibers that serve to connect the left and right cerebral hemispheres.
The cerebellum lies superior and posterior to the pons at the back base of the head. The cerebellum consists of left and right hemispheres connected by the vermis. Specialized tracts (peduncles) of neural tissue also connect the
cerebellum with the midbrain, pons, and medulla. The surface of the cerebral hemispheres (the cortex) is highly convoluted into many folds and fissures.
The midbrain serves to connect the forebrain region to the hindbrain region. Within the midbrain a narrow aqueduct connects ventricles in the forebrain to the hindbrain. There are four distinguishable surface swellings (colliculi) on the midbrain. The midbrain also contains a highly vascularized mass of neural tissue called the red nucleus that is reddish in color (a result of the vascularization) compared to other brain structures and landmarks.
Although not visible from an exterior inspection of the brain, the diencephalon contains a dorsal thalamus (with a large posterior swelling termed the pulvinar) and a ventral hypothalamus that forms a border of the third ventricle of the brain. In this third ventral region lies a number of important structures, including the optic chiasma (the region where the ophthalmic nerves cross) and infundibulum.
Obscuring the diencephalon are the two large, well-developed, and highly convoluted cerebral hemispheres that comprise the cerebrum. The cerebrum is the largest of the regions of the brain. The corpus callosum is connected to the two large cerebral hemispheres. Within each cerebral hemisphere lies a lateral ventricle. The cerebral hemispheres run under the frontal, parietal, and occipital bones of the skull. The gray matter cortex is highly convoluted into folds (gyri) and the covering meninges dip deeply into the narrow gaps between the folds (sulci). The divisions of the superficial anatomy of the brain use the gyri and sulcias anatomical landmarks to define particular lobes of the cerebral hemispheres. As a rule, the lobes are named according to the particular bone of the skull that covers them. Accordingly, there are left and right frontal lobes, parietal lobes, an occipital lobe, and temporal lobes.
In a reversal of the pattern found within the spinal cord, the cerebral hemispheres have white matter tracts on the inside of the hemispheres and gray matter on the outside or cortex regions. Masses of gray matter that are present within the interior white matter are called basal ganglia or basal nuclei.
Brian Douglas Hoyle PhD, Paul Arthur, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,