Spinal bulb: anatomical structure and functions

In their daily life, human beings have many behaviors and actions. We shower, work, talk and interact with others, walk, eat or go to bed. We do most of these actions consciously and voluntarily. However, our bodies do a lot more than that.

Whatever our will, our body makes the heart beat constantly, maintains respiratory function, goes through a long process to desire, digest and after digestion excrete food, regulate the sexual response or prepare us to react to dangers or desirable stimuli. . Regulation of basic bodily functions it is carried out by one of the parts of the brain known as the brainstem. Within this structure there is another which is known as the medulla oblongata and which plays a very important role.

What is the medulla oblongata?

Also called the myelencephalon, the medulla oblongata is a subcortical structure located in the lower part of the brainstem.. Conical in shape, it is the structure of the nervous system that connects the brain and the spinal cord (hence another of its names, oblong spinal cord), limiting with the decussation of the pyramidal beams and the protuberance.

In the medulla oblongata can be found motor and sensory nerve connections, Passing through the various nervous tracts. It is a neurovegetative nucleus, responsible for the maintenance and functioning of organs in an automated way and foreign to consciousness. It also maintains vital signs, so problems that compromise its functioning lead to brain death. It is therefore an area of ​​great importance for human survival.

Parts and anatomical configuration

When we talk about the medulla oblongata we talk a structure which is not homogeneous in its composition and function. In turn, this structure is made up of different nuclei, starting with some of the more well-known nervous tracts, and these parts of the medulla oblongata have different functions.

The medulla oblongata is generally considered to be mainly divisible into Three parties: pyramids and their pyramidal decussation, lemniscal and lemniscal decussation and lower olive complex. Below, we can observe some of the most relevant structures of each of these brain nuclei, in addition to other nuclei of interest from the medulla oblongata.

1. Bulbar pyramids and pyramidal decussation

Named for their shape, in the pyramids of the medulla oblongata are the bundles of nerve fibers that connect the cortex with the medulla and the spine. Therefore, it is in this area that the brain connects with the rest of the body, Sending motor information to muscle fibers distributed throughout the body.

In pyramidal decussation, the nerve fibers of the pyramids decussate, that is to say that they change for the most part, being the fibers of the pyramid from left to right and vice versa. More specifically, in this area, the highways are particularly disappointing.

2. Lemniscos and lemniscal decussation

Lemnisci are bundles of nerve fibers whose function, as in the case of pyramids, is to transmit information between the brain, more precisely the thalamus, and the spinal cord. In this case, however, the information they convey is mainly of the sensory type.

As in the case of the decussation of the pyramids, lemniscus decusan fiber bundles, Following the same process in this case for the sensory information.

3. Complex of olive trees

The olive complex is a structure located in the brainstem, forming part of the protuberance and part of the medulla oblongata. The region present in the bulb connects with the cerebellum, being related to motor control. It has also been linked with vision.

Other relevant cores and treatments

These are other structures that are also found inside the medulla oblongata.

ambiguous core

In this structure begin the vagus, accessory and glossopharyngeal nerves. These nerves are involved in the control of food and digestion, controlling the muscles of the pharynx and larynx. So it’s them they allow us to swallow and food to move through the digestive tract.

At the heart of the lonely chord

It is the part of the medulla oblongata which regulates the sensitivity of the viscera, Intervening in the same way in the cardiorespiratory function. Likewise, the front side also participates in taste perception, a process that takes place exclusively inside the skull.

Dorsal core of the wave

This nucleus, through which the vagus nerve passes, is linked to digestion, controlling the production and emission of gastric flow. It is therefore part of a network of neural networks involved in the enteric nervous system, Partly framed in the peripheral nervous system.

Trigeminal nucleus

In this place we can find the trigeminal nerve, which is particularly relevant with regard to convey information about pain, temperature and touch. This is an area where neural sums accumulate to process information at a very basic level; other brain structures will be responsible for continuing to work on this information when the nerve cells transmit the signal to the upper area.

What are you involved in? Functions of the medulla oblongata

The proper functioning of the spinal cord is vital for humans. Literally, since destroying or stopping the operation of this area results in death.

To understand why it is so important, we need to consider some of the main functions of this structure, and keep in mind that when you find it at the base of the brain, a large part of the neural networks arranged vertically pass through this structure of the central nervous system.

It transmits information from the spinal cord to the brain and vice versa

Being the part of the nervous system that connects the brain and the spinal cord, one of the main functions of the medulla oblongata is to serve as a link between the brain and / or cerebellum and the spinal cord. Thus, it is responsible for transmitting sensory and motor nerve information to the rest of the body.

Heart rate and blood pressure monitoring

The medulla oblongata keeps us alive because it has the important function of controlling vital and unconscious elements such as heart rate and blood pressure. Thus, it is responsible for maintaining heart rate and regulating vasoconstriction.

Regulation of breathing

Breathing is one of the basic functions that life allows, because we need the presence of a constant supply of oxygen for the functioning of the various organs. The medulla oblongata manages the control of respiratory function, Keep it at all times.

It is a process which, precisely because of its importance, cannot depend on our ability to manage the center of attention, which is reflected, for example, in the fact that we never forget to breathe, no matter what. complexity of the task we are doing, or even sleeping. In general, the medulla oblongata is useful precisely for this hierarchy of tasks which establishes and thanks to which we make a more optimal use of the resources of the nervous system.

Participates in nutrition and digestion

Control of involuntary muscles, such as those that push food through the digestive tract when we eat it depends on part of the bulbar complex. Besides muscle control, the functioning of the digestive system is also linked to the medulla oblongata by regulating it. gastric flow emission. This means that it is a structure of the brain that helps maintain ideal chemical balances in the body.

Bibliographical references:

  • Carlson, NR (2014). Behavioral physiology (11th edition). Madrid: Pearson Education.
  • Hughes, T. (2003). Neurology of swallowing and oral feeding disorders: evaluation and treatment. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. 74 (90003): 48iii.
  • Kandel, ER; Schwartz, JH and Jessell, TM (2001). Principles of neuroscience. Fourth edition. McGraw-Hill Inter-American. Madrid.
  • Kolb, B. and Whishaw, IQ (2009). Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology: Sixth Edition. New York, New York: Worth Publishers.
  • Vilensky, J .; Robertson, W .; Suarez-Quian, C. (2015). The clinical anatomy of the cranial nerves: the nerves of “On Olympus Towering Top”. Ames, Iowa: Wiley-Blackwell.

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