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Brain stem

The midbrain and hindbrain (composed of the pons and the medulla) are collectively referred to as the brain stem ( [link] ). The structure emerges from the ventral surface of the forebrain as a tapering cone that connects the brain to the spinal cord. Attached to the brain stem, but considered a separate region of the adult brain, is the cerebellum. The midbrain coordinates sensory representations of the visual, auditory, and somatosensory perceptual spaces. The pons is the main connection with the cerebellum. The pons and the medulla regulate several crucial functions, including the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and rates.

The cranial nerves connect through the brain stem and provide the brain with the sensory input and motor output associated with the head and neck, including most of the special senses. The major ascending and descending pathways between the spinal cord and brain, specifically the cerebrum, pass through the brain stem.

The brain stem

This figure shows the location of the midbrain, pons and the medulla in the brain.
The brain stem comprises three regions: the midbrain, the pons, and the medulla.

Midbrain

One of the original regions of the embryonic brain, the midbrain is a small region between the thalamus and pons. It is separated into the tectum    and tegmentum    , from the Latin words for roof and floor, respectively. The cerebral aqueduct passes through the center of the midbrain, such that these regions are the roof and floor of that canal.

The tectum is composed of four bumps known as the colliculi (singular = colliculus), which means “little hill” in Latin. The inferior colliculus    is the inferior pair of these enlargements and is part of the auditory brain stem pathway. Neurons of the inferior colliculus project to the thalamus, which then sends auditory information to the cerebrum for the conscious perception of sound. The superior colliculus    is the superior pair and combines sensory information about visual space, auditory space, and somatosensory space. Activity in the superior colliculus is related to orienting the eyes to a sound or touch stimulus. If you are walking along the sidewalk on campus and you hear chirping, the superior colliculus coordinates that information with your awareness of the visual location of the tree right above you. That is the correlation of auditory and visual maps. If you suddenly feel something wet fall on your head, your superior colliculus integrates that with the auditory and visual maps and you know that the chirping bird just relieved itself on you. You want to look up to see the culprit, but do not.

The tegmentum is continuous with the gray matter of the rest of the brain stem. Throughout the midbrain, pons, and medulla, the tegmentum contains the nuclei that receive and send information through the cranial nerves, as well as regions that regulate important functions such as those of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Pons

The word pons comes from the Latin word for bridge. It is visible on the anterior surface of the brain stem as the thick bundle of white matter attached to the cerebellum. The pons is the main connection between the cerebellum and the brain stem. The bridge-like white matter is only the anterior surface of the pons; the gray matter beneath that is a continuation of the tegmentum from the midbrain. Gray matter in the tegmentum region of the pons contains neurons receiving descending input from the forebrain that is sent to the cerebellum.

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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