Brain Basics

Brain and Nerve Cells
Computer artwork of a frontal view of a human brain. Science Photo Library - PASIEKA/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

The scarecrow needed it, Einstein had an excellent one, and it can store a whole lot of information. What is it you say? Why, the brain of course. The brain is the control center of the body. Think of a telephone operator who answers incoming calls and directs them to where they need to go. Similarly, your brain acts as an operator by sending messages to and receiving messages from all over the body.

The brain processes the information it receives and ensures that messages are directed to their proper destinations.

Neurons

The brain is composed of specialized cells called neurons. These cells are the basic unit of the nervous system. Neurons send and receive messages through electrical impulses and chemical messages. Chemical messages are known as neurotransmitters and they can either inhibit cell activity or cause cells to become excitable. 

Brain Divisions

The brain is one of the largest and most important organs of the human body. Weighing in at about three pounds, this organ is covered by a three layered protective membrane called the meninges. The brain has a wide range of responsibilities. From coordinating our movement to managing our emotions, this organ does it all. The brain is composed of three main divisions: the forebrain, brainstem, and hindbrain.

Forebrain

The forebrain is the most complex of the three parts.

It gives us the ability to "feel," learn, and remember. It consists of two parts: the telencephalon (contains the cerebral cortex and corpus callosum) and the diencephalon (contains the thalamus and hypothalamus).

The cerebral cortex allows us to understand the mounds of information we receive from all around us.

The left and right regions of the cerebral cortex are separated by a thick band of tissue called the corpus callosum. The thalamus acts as a telephone line of sorts, allowing information to get through to the cerebral cortex. It is also a component of the limbic system, which connects areas of the cerebral cortex that are involved in sensory perception and movement with other parts of the brain and spinal cord. The hypothalamus is important for regulating hormones, hunger, thirst, and arousal.

Brainstem

The brainstem consists of the midbrain and the hindbrain. Just as the name suggests, the brainstem resembles the stem of a branch. The midbrain is the upper part of the branch that is connected to the forebrain. This region of the brain sends and receives information. Data from our senses, such as the eyes and ears, are sent to this area and then directed to the forebrain.

Hindbrain

The hindbrain makes up the lower portion of the brainstem and consists of three units. The medulla oblongata controls involuntary functions such as digestion and breathing. The second unit of the hindbrain, the pons, also assists in controlling these functions. The third unit, the cerebellum, is responsible for the coordination of movement.

Those of you who are blessed with great hand-eye coordination have your cerebellum to thank.

Brain Disorders

As you can imagine, all of us desire a brain that is healthy and functions properly. Unfortunately, there are some who suffer from neurological disorders of the brain. A few of these disorders include: Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, sleep disorders, and Parkinson's disease.