CEREBRUM This forms nearly 70 per cent of the brain and consists of two cerebral hemispheres which occupy the entire vault of the cranium and are incompletely separated from one another by a deep mid-line cleft, the longitudinal cerebral ﬁssure. At the bottom of this cleft the two hemispheres are united by a thick band of some 200 million crossing nerve ﬁbres
– the corpus callosum. Other clefts or ﬁssures (sulci) make deep impressions, dividing the cerebrum into lobes. The lobes of the cerebrum are the frontal lobe in the forehead region, the parietal lobe on the side and upper part of the brain, the occipital lobe to the back, and the temporal lobe lying just above the region of the ear. The outer 3 mm of the cerebrum is called the cortex, which consists of grey matter with the nerve cells arranged in six layers. This region is concerned with conscious thought, sensation and movement, operating in a similar manner to the more primitive areas of the brain except that incoming information is subject to much greater analysis.
Numbers of shallower infoldings of the surface, called furrows or sulci, separate raised areas called convolutions or gyri. In the deeper part, the white matter consists of nerve ﬁbres connecting diﬀerent parts of the surface and passing down to the lower parts of the brain. Among the white matter lie several rounded masses of grey matter, the lentiform and caudate nuclei. In the centre of each cerebral hemisphere is an irregular cavity, the lateral ventricle, each of which communicates with that on the other side and behind with the third ventricle through a small opening, the inter-ventricular foramen, or foramen of Monro.
BASAL NUCLEI Two large masses of grey matter embedded in the base of the cerebral hemispheres in humans, but forming the chief part of the brain in many animals. Between these masses lies the third ventricle, from which the infundibulum, a funnel-shaped process, projects downwards into the pituitary body, and above lies the PINEAL GLAND. This region includes the important HYPOTHALAMUS.
MID-BRAIN or mesencephalon: a stalk about 20 mm long connecting the cerebrum with the hind-brain. Down its centre lies a tube, the cerebral aqueduct, or aqueduct of Sylvius, connecting the third and fourth ventricles. Above this aqueduct lie the corpora quadrigemina, and beneath it are the crura cerebri, strong bands of white matter in which important nerve ﬁbres pass downwards from the cerebrum. The pineal gland is sited on the upper part of the midbrain.
PONS A mass of nerve ﬁbres, some of which run crosswise and others are the continuation of the crura cerebri downwards.
CEREBELLUM This lies towards the back, underneath the occipital lobes of the cerebrum.
MEDULLA OBLONGATA The lowest part of the brain, in structure resembling the spinal cord, with white matter on the surface and grey matter in its interior. This is continuous through the large opening in the skull, the foramen magnum, with the spinal cord. Between the medulla, pons, and cerebellum lies the fourth ventricle of the brain.
Structure The grey matter consists mainly of billions of neurones (see NEURON(E)) in which all the activities of the brain begin. These cells vary considerably in size and shape in diﬀerent parts of the brain, though all give oﬀ a number of processes, some of which form nerve ﬁbres. The cells in the cortex of the cerebral hemispheres, for example, are very numerous, being set in layers ﬁve or six deep. In shape these cells are pyramidal, giving oﬀ processes from the apex, from the centre of the base, and from various projections elsewhere on the cell. The grey matter is everywhere penetrated by a rich supply of blood vessels, and the nerve cells and blood vessels are supported in a ﬁne network of ﬁbres known as neuroglia.
The white matter consists of nerve ﬁbres, each of which is attached, at one end, to a cell in the grey matter, while at the other end it splits up into a tree-like structure around another cell in another part of the grey matter in the brain or spinal cord. The ﬁbres have insulating sheaths of a fatty material which, in the mass, gives the white matter its colour; they convey messages from one part of the brain to the other (association ﬁbres), or, grouped into bundles, leave the brain as nerves, or pass down into the spinal cord where they end near, and exert a control upon, cells from which in turn spring the nerves to the body.
Both grey and white matter are bound together by a network of cells called GLIA which make up 60 per cent of the brain’s weight. These have traditionally been seen as simple structures whose main function was to glue the constituents of the brain together. Recent research, however, suggests that glia are vital for growing synapses between the neurons as they trigger these cells to communicate with each other. So they probably participate in the task of laying down memories, for which synapses are an essential key. The research points to the likelihood that glial cells are as complex as neurons, functioning biochemically in a similar way. Glial cells also absorb potassium pumped out by active neurons and prevent levels of GLUTAMATE – the most common chemical messenger in the brain – from becoming too high.
The general arrangement of ﬁbres can be best understood by describing the course of a motor nerve-ﬁbre. Arising in a cell on the surface in front of the central sulcus, such a ﬁbre passes inwards towards the centre of the cerebral hemisphere, the collected mass of ﬁbres as they lie between the lentiform nucleus and optic thalamus being known as the internal capsule. Hence the ﬁbre passes down through the crus cerebri, giving oﬀ various small connecting ﬁbres as it passes downwards. After passing through the pons it reaches the medulla, and at this point crosses to the opposite side (decussation of the pyramids). Entering the spinal cord, it passes downwards to end ﬁnally in a series of branches (arborisation) which meet and touch (synapse) similar branches from one or more of the cells in the grey matter of the cord (see SPINAL CORD).
BLOOD VESSELS Four vessels carry blood to the brain: two internal carotid arteries in front, and two vertebral arteries behind. These communicate to form a circle (circle of Willis) inside the skull, so that if one is blocked, the others, by dilating, take its place. The chief branch of the internal carotid artery on each side is the middle cerebral, and this gives oﬀ a small but very important branch which pierces the base of the brain and supplies the region of the internal capsule with blood. The chief importance of this vessel lies in the fact that the blood in it is under especially high pressure, owing to its close connection with the carotid artery, so that haemorrhage from it is liable to occur and thus give rise to stroke. Two veins, the internal cerebral veins, bring the blood away from the interior of the brain, but most of the small veins come to the surface and open into large venous sinuses, which run in grooves in the skull, and ﬁnally pass their blood into the internal jugular vein that accompanies the carotid artery on each side of the neck.
MEMBRANES The brain is separated from the skull by three membranes: the dura mater, a thick ﬁbrous membrane; the arachnoid mater, a more delicate structure; and the pia mater, adhering to the surface of the brain and containing the blood vessels which nourish it. Between each pair is a space containing ﬂuid on which the brain ﬂoats as on a water-bed. The ﬂuid beneath the arachnoid membrane mixes with that inside the ventricles through a small opening in the fourth ventricle, called the median aperture, or foramen of Magendie.
These ﬂuid arrangements have a great inﬂuence in preserving the brain from injury.