Unit II Gross Anatomy of Brain and Spinal Cord

Gross Topography of the Brain

Learning Objectives
  1. Describe the embryonic flexures that develop in the CNS. How do those structures affect the axes in the CNS?

  2. Identify the main sulci in the telencephalon.

  3. Describe the boundaries of the lobes of the telencephalon. Identify the main gyri and their functions.

  4. Identify the major structures found in the diencephalon. Briefly describe their function.

  5. Identify the structures of the metencephalon. Describe the associated structures and their function.

  6. Identify the structures of the myelencephalon. Describe the major features and functions.

  7. List the major structures visible from the medial aspect of the cerebral hemispheres. Note location and function.

  8. List the major structures present on the inferior surface of the cerebral hemispheres. Note location and function.


The brain is composed of two cerebral hemispheres, the brainstem, and the cerebellum. These structures develop from the embryonic neural tube, which ultimately differentiates into five vesicles: telencephalon, diencephalon, mesencephalon, metencephalon, and the myelencephalon (). The telencephalon is made up of the cerebral cortex and related subcortical structures. The diencephalon is made up of the thalamus, hypothalamus, epithalamus, and subthalamus. The mesencephalon (midbrain) is composed of several structures located in close proximity to the cerebral aqueduct such as the mesencephalic reticular area, red nucleus, substantia nigra, and motor and sensory pathways among others. The metencephalon includes the pons and cerebellum. The myelencephalon is made up of the medulla along with associated nuclei and pathways. The mesencephalon, metencephalon, and myelencephalon collectively make up what is known as the brainstem.

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Fig. 5.1 (a) Undifferentiated neural tube. (b) Three primary vesicles develop from the undifferentiated neural tube. (c) Five secondary vesicles develop from the primary vesicles. (d) The secondary vesicles eventually differentiate into adult structures. Note: The cavity of the neural tube also differentiates at the same time resulting in the formation of the four ventricles (I–IV) and the connecting as well as the aqueduct which leads to the central canal of the spinal cord. (Reproduced with permission from Schuenke M, Schulte E, Schumacher U. THIEME Atlas of Anatomy. Second Edition, Vol 3. © Thieme 2016. Illustrations by Markus Voll and Karl Wesker.)

Neuroanatomical Terms

  • Planes ()

    • Sagittal plane: Divides the body into two symmetrical halves.

    • Parasagittal plane: Parallel to the sagittal plane.

    • Frontal/coronal plane: Perpendicular to the sagittal plane. Separates the body into anterior and posterior equal halves.

  • Axes ()

    • Rostrocaudal: Early in development, the human embryo has a linear axis. In this model, rostral means the front of the brain and caudal indicates the back of the brain. However, due to flexures that are produced in the developing central nervous system (CNS), the axes change. In humans, a prominent flexure develops at the level of the midbrain that changes the axis from linear to a more curved orientation. This means that at or below the level of the midbrain, rostral is toward the cortex and caudal is toward the sacrum.

    • Dorsoventral: Rostral to the midbrain, dorsal indicates the top of the brain and ventral refers to the bottom of the brain. At the level of the flexure/midbrain or inferiorly, the term superior is often used rather than dorsal, and inferior rather than ventral. At the level of the lower medulla/spinal cord, the neuroaxis is once again linear so ventral (anterior) and dorsal (posterior) are appropriate.

    • Flexures: Differential growth of the neural tube produces flexures in the developing embryo during weeks 4 to 5 (). The cephalic flexure is the only one that persists later in development.

      • Cephalic: Between midbrain and hindbrain.

      • Pontine: Between metencephalon and myelencephalon.

      • Cervical: Between the brain and spinal cord.

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Fig. 5.2 Cardinal planes and axes.

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Fig. 5.3 Axes of the CNS in a rat (linear orientation) and a human whose CNS has a flexure in the midbrain, changing the axis in that area. CNS, central nervous system.

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Fig. 5.4 Flexures arise in the neural tube changing the orientation of the developing embryo.

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Fig. 5.5 A deep midline groove (sagittal fissure) separates the cerebral hemispheres.

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Fig. 5.6 Cerebrum. Left lateral view. The surface anatomy of the cerebrum can be divided macroscopically into four lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital. The surface contours of the cerebrum are defined by convolutions (gyri) and depressions (sulci). (Reproduced with permission from Baker EW. Anatomy for Dental Medicine. Second Edition. © Thieme 2015. Illustrations by Markus Voll and Karl Wesker.)

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Fig. 5.7 Frontal lobe lies anterior to the central sulcus and superior to the lateral sulcus. Gyri includes: superior, middle, and inferior frontal gyrus. (Reproduced with permission from Gilroy AM, MacPherson BR. Atlas of Anatomy. Third Edition. © Thieme 2016. Illustrations by Markus Voll and Karl Wesker.)


  • The cerebral hemispheres are the largest component of the human brain. The outer layer is called the cortex, which is made up of neurons and supporting cells. It is commonly referred to as the gray matter due to its gray color. Deep to the gray matter is the white matter which is composed of myelinated tracts. It is the myelinated fibers that give it the white-ish color.

  • The cerebral hemispheres are separated by a long, deep midline groove known as the longitudinal (sagittal) fissure ().

  • The convoluted appearance of the cerebral hemispheres is due to ridges called sulci and the grooves between them known as fissures.

    • The presence of the sulci and gyri serves to increase the surface area of the cortex.

    • Approximately two-thirds of the cortex is hidden by the convoluted surface.

  • Gyri and sulci are somewhat variable between individuals; however, there are several that are fairly consistent and will be discussed in this chapter, particularly those that define the lobes of the cortex.

    • The central, parieto-occipital, and lateral sulci as well as the preoccipital notch are used as boundaries to demarcate the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes of the cerebral hemispheres () ().

  • Main sulci

    • Central sulcus

      • Separates the motor (precentral gyrus) and the sensory strip (postcentral gyrus).

      • Separates the frontal from the parietal lobe.

      • Runs from the superior margin of the hemisphere, approximately at the midpoint, and continues inferiorly at a slightly oblique angle (inferiorly and anteriorly), until it meets the lateral fissure.

    • Parieto-occipital sulcus

      • Lies on the medial aspect of the brain.

      • Begins on superior margin of cortex and passes inferiorly and anteriorly to meet the calcarine sulcus.

      • Separates the parietal lobe from the occipital lobe.

    • Lateral sulcus

      • Separates the frontal and parietal lobes from the temporal lobe.

      • Mainly visible on the inferior and lateral surface of the brain.

      • The insula lies deep to the lateral sulcus. This structure cannot be viewed unless the lateral sulcus is separated.

    • Preoccipital notch

      • Formed by the petrous ridge of the temporal bone, it can be seen as an indentation in the inferior temporal gyrus.

      • Located on the lateral surface of the temporal lobe.

      • Contributes to the delineation of the occipital lobe by drawing an arbitrary line from the superior aspect of the parieto-occipital sulcus to the preoccipital notch (parietotemporal lateral line).

  • Lobes and main gyri

    • Frontal lobe ()

      • Largest of the cerebral lobes.

      • Lies anterior to the central sulcus and superior to the lateral sulcus.

      • Composed of four gyri:

        • Precentral gyrus that parallels the central sulcus.

        • Three horizontal gyri: superior, middle, and inferior frontal gyri.

        • The gyri of the frontal lobe create functional areas ():

        • Primary motor cortex (M1)

          • Origin of the corticospinal tract as well as part of the corticobulbar tract. Sends projections to the basal ganglia and the thalamus.

          • The precentral gyrus is somatotopically arranged creating a motor homunculus. Somatotopy refers to specific areas of the motor strip that are functionally associated with specific and distinct areas of the body ().

        • Premotor cortex (PMC)

          • Lies immediately anterior to the precentral gyrus and has many of the same connections as the motor strip. Most of the output from the premotor cortex is to the precentral gyrus with some projections to the brainstem and spinal cord. It receives input from the sensory cortex as well as the basal ganglia by way of the thalamus. The premotor cortex is critical for the planning of movement and selection of appropriate responses based on learned associations.

        • Supplemental motor area (SMA)

          • Extension of the premotor cortex that reaches to the medial aspect of the hemisphere. Outputs from the SMA project to the precentral gyrus, basal ganglia, and thalamus. It also has connections to the contralateral SMA. Function includes complex motor tasks and coordinating movements of both hands. Studies have shown that this area becomes active prior to movement and is thought to be involved in the initiation of movement.

        • Frontal eye fields

          • Located in the middle frontal gyrus and part of the inferior frontal gyrus rostral to the premotor area.

          • Involved in voluntary eye movement. Initiates gaze response to stimuli.

        • Broca’s area

          • Part of the inferior frontal gyrus on the dominant side (usually the left). It is involved in the motor aspects of speech () (Clinical Correlation Box 5.1).

        • Prefrontal cortex (PFC)

          • The remainder of the frontal lobe is called the prefrontal cortex.

          • It is very well developed in humans and continues to develop postnatally. It deals with activities such as decision-making, planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, and social behavior (executive function).

          • It can also be subdivided functionally, although less consistent, and lesions in these areas produce mixed symptoms.

            • Lateral PFC: Cognitive support for behavior, speech, and reasoning.

            • Medial PFC: Motility, attention, and emotion.

            • Inferior PFC: Personality

      • Parietal lobe

        • The parietal lobe lies posterior to the central sulcus and continues posteriorly to the parietal-occipital sulcus located on the medial surface. From the lateral surface, the posterior border is an “imaginary line that is drawn from the parieto-occipital sulcus on the superior margin to the preoccipital notch on the inferior margin of the hemisphere.” The inferolateral boundary is the lateral sulcus, which separates it from the temporal lobe ().

        • The lateral surface is divided into the postcentral gyrus and superior and inferior lobules.

          • The postcentral gyrus (S1) is posterior to the central sulcus and parallels it. It extends posteriorly to the postcentral sulcus. It is the primary somatosensory cortex and receives sensory information from the body and viscera. It also receives proprioceptive information.

          • The inferior parietal lobule contains Wernicke’s area, which is important in comprehension of language and reading (language input) (Clinical Correlation Box 5.2).

          • The superior parietal lobule is involved in spatial orientation and body image.

      • Temporal lobe ( )

        • It occupies the cortex inferior to the lateral sulcus.

        • It contains the superior, middle, and inferior temporal gyri.

        • A portion of the superior aspect of the temporal lobe (superior temporal gyrus) is known as the primary auditory cortex.

        • Wernicke’s area also encompasses the posterior part of the superior temporal gyrus of one hemisphere (usually the left). Thus, Wernicke’s area is made up of part of the inferior parietal gyrus and portions of the superior temporal gyrus.

        • A significant amount of the temporal lobe (especially the inferior aspect) is involved in higher order processing of visual information.

        • The medial aspect of the temporal lobe is involved in learning and memory.

      • Occipital lobe ( )

        • Located posterior to the parieto-occipital sulcus and lies on the tentorium cerebelli.

        • Prominent fissures present on the medial aspect define the cuneus. The cuneus receives visual information from the opposite visual field.

          • Calcarine fissure /sulcus

            • Location of the primary visual cortex (within walls).

          • Parieto-occipital sulcus

            • Separates occipital from parietal lobe.

            • Divides cuneus from precuneaus.

        • Remainder of the lobe is referred to as the visual association cortex.

          • Visual association cortex also extends into the temporal lobe.

          • Interprets signals and recognizes forms.

      • Insular cortex ( )

        • Lies deep to the lateral sulcus. Can only be seen if lateral sulcus is retracted.

        • Represents fusion of the telencephalon and diencephalon during embryonic development.

        • Thought to be involved in nociception, regulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), homeostasis, speech production, and emotions.

      • Limbic lobe

        • Located on the inferomedial aspect of the cerebral hemispheres.

        • Not a “true” lobe but made up of several cortical regions and subcortical structures including the hippocampus, amygdala, septal nuclei, cingulate cortex, and parahippocampal cortex ().

        • The hippocampus is a forebrain structure located within the medial temporal lobe.

        • The amygdala is located within the anterior temporal lobe within the uncus. It lies anterior to the hippocampus.

        • Septal nuclei are subcortical nuclei that have connections to emotion generating areas.

        • The cingulate cortex is located on the medial aspect of the cerebral cortex and is a subset of the limbic cortex.

        • The parahippocampal cortex surrounds the hippocampus. It is important in memory encoding and retrieval.

        • The limbic system is involved in memory and learning, drive-related behavior, and emotions.

Dec 11, 2022 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on Unit II Gross Anatomy of Brain and Spinal Cord

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