Neurons, Hormones, and the Brain

Structure and Functions of the Brain

Summary Structure and Functions of the Brain

The brain is divided into three main parts: the hindbrain, the midbrain, and the forebrain.

The Hindbrain

The hindbrain is composed of the medulla, the pons, and the cerebellum. The medulla lies next to the spinal cord and controls functions outside conscious control, such as breathing and blood flow. In other words, the medulla controls essential functions. The pons affects activities such as sleeping, waking, and dreaming. The cerebellum controls balance and coordination of movement. Damage to the cerebellum impairs fine motor skills, so a person with an injury in this area would have trouble playing the guitar or typing a term paper.

The Midbrain

The midbrain is the part of the brain that lies between the hindbrain and the forebrain. The midbrain helps us to locate events in space. It also contains a system of neurons that releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. The reticular formation runs through the hindbrain and the midbrain and is involved in sleep and wakefulness, pain perception, breathing, and muscle reflexes.

The Forebrain

The biggest and most complex part of the brain is the forebrain, which includes the thalamus, the hypothalamus, the limbic system, and the cerebrum.


The thalamus is a sensory way station. All sensory information except smell-related data must go through the thalamus on the way to the cerebrum.


The hypothalamus lies under the thalamus and helps to control the pituitary gland and the autonomic nervous system. The hypothalamus plays an important role in regulating body temperature and biological drives such as hunger, thirst, sex, and aggression.

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