Biology » The Nervous System » The Central Nervous System

Summarizing the Central Nervous System

Summary

The vertebrate central nervous system contains the brain and the spinal cord, which are covered and protected by three meninges. The brain contains structurally and functionally defined regions. In mammals, these include the cortex (which can be broken down into four primary functional lobes: frontal, temporal, occipital, and parietal), basal ganglia, thalamus, hypothalamus, limbic system, cerebellum, and brainstem—although structures in some of these designations overlap. While functions may be primarily localized to one structure in the brain, most complex functions, like language and sleep, involve neurons in multiple brain regions. The spinal cord is the information superhighway that connects the brain with the rest of the body through its connections with peripheral nerves. It transmits sensory and motor input and also controls motor reflexes.

Glossary

amygdala

structure within the limbic system that processes fear

arachnoid mater

spiderweb-like middle layer of the meninges that cover the central nervous system

basal ganglia

interconnected collections of cells in the brain that are involved in movement and motivation; also known as basal nuclei

basal nuclei

see basal ganglia

brainstem

portion of the brain that connects with the spinal cord; controls basic nervous system functions like breathing, heart rate, and swallowing

cerebellum

brain structure involved in posture, motor coordination, and learning new motor actions

cerebral cortex

outermost sheet of brain tissue; involved in many higher-order functions

choroid plexus

spongy tissue within ventricles that produces cerebrospinal fluid

cingulate gyrus

helps regulate emotions and pain; thought to directly drive the body’s conscious response to unpleasant experiences

corpus callosum

thick fiber bundle that connects the cerebral hemispheres

cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)

clear liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and fills the ventricles and central canal; acts as a shock absorber and circulates material throughout the brain and spinal cord.

dura mater

tough outermost layer that covers the central nervous system

frontal lobe

part of the cerebral cortex that contains the motor cortex and areas involved in planning, attention, and language

gyrus

(plural: gyri) ridged protrusions in the cortex

hippocampus

brain structure in the temporal lobe involved in processing memories

hypothalamus

brain structure that controls hormone release and body homeostasis

limbic system

connected brain areas that process emotion and motivation

meninge

membrane that covers and protects the central nervous system

occipital lobe

part of the cerebral cortex that contains visual cortex and processes visual stimuli

parietal lobe

part of the cerebral cortex involved in processing touch and the sense of the body in space

pia mater

thin membrane layer directly covering the brain and spinal cord

proprioception

sense about how parts of the body are oriented in space

somatosensation

sense of touch

spinal cord

thick fiber bundle that connects the brain with peripheral nerves; transmits sensory and motor information; contains neurons that control motor reflexes

sulcus

(plural: sulci) indents or “valleys” in the cortex

temporal lobe

part of the cerebral cortex that processes auditory input; parts of the temporal lobe are involved in speech, memory, and emotion processing

thalamus

brain area that relays sensory information to the cortex

ventricle

cavity within brain that contains cerebrospinal fluid

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