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Video: Reticular Formation: Definition & Functions



The reticular formation is a group of nuclei found throughout the brain stem. What do these nuclei do? How does their functioning affect your daily life? Complete this lesson to learn more about this important structure.

2016-03-09

 Anatomy & Physiology: Tutoring Solution

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Reticular Formation: Definition & Functions

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Lesson Transcript

Instructor:
Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

The reticular formation is a group of nuclei found throughout the brain stem. What do these nuclei do? How does their functioning affect your daily life? Complete this lesson to learn more about this important structure.

What Is Reticular Formation?

Think about everything you’ve done in the last twenty minutes. Even if you were just sitting in front of a computer, you probably made small movements. Did you breathe in and out? Cough? Sit up straight? You probably did these things automatically, without even thinking about it. And yet, you wouldn’t be able to make these small movements at all without the reticular formation.

The reticular formation is a nerve network of nuclei clusters found in the human brain stem. The dorsal tegmental nuclei are in the midbrain, the central tegmental nuclei are in the pons, and the central nuclei and inferior nuclei are found in the medulla. The reticular formation comprises most of the brain stem and is a critical region for functioning. Because this region of the brain is so diverse and responsible for so many functions, you can think of the reticular formation as a collection of neurons, all of which have specialized jobs to carry out.

It can be hard to visualize the exact location of the reticular formation because it has so many groups of neurons found in different parts of the brain. But, generally speaking, it is divided into three sections: a median column (called raphe nuclei), a medial zone (called magnocellular red nucleus), and the lateral zone (called parvocellular reticular nucleus). The median column is responsible for making serotonin, which is critical to mood regulation. The medial zone helps with motor coordination, and the lateral zone helps control exhalation (breathing out).

What Does the Reticular Formation Do?

The reticular formation has two main components: the ascending and the descending reticular formation. The ascending reticular formation is responsible for sleep cycles and is also called reticular activating system. The descending reticular formation affects your posture and autonomic nervous system functioning. Certain nuclei are also responsible for eye movements, coughing, chewing, swallowing, and vomiting. When the brain stem is damaged, it interferes with consciousness and can lead to coma.

Because this area of the brain is responsible for so many functions, let’s summarize and highlight the most important ones. First, it helps with motor control. This includes regulating tone, balance, and posture, and enables you to move around without falling all over the place. It also allows the eyes to focus on external stimuli and provides rhythmic breathing. Next, it helps the heart beat regularly to pump blood throughout the body, playing a large role in regulating the cardiovascular system. Third, it helps pain alerts travel from the body to the brain so the warnings can be comprehended. It also helps regulate sleep and wake patterns, and damage to this region can cause an irreversible coma. Finally, this region is responsible for identifying which stimuli you need to notice and which are just ‘background noise’ that can be ignored. If you didn’t have this filter, you would consistently be overwhelmed with all of your senses firing on high!

Lesson Summary

The reticular formation is the powerhouse portion of the brain, mostly found in the brain stem. There are multiple clusters of nuclei, each responsible for different things. Generally speaking, the reticular formation can be divided into three sections: the median column, the medial zone, and the lateral zone. Within these regions, smaller groups of nuclei regulate posture and movements, the heart’s functioning, sleep patterns, pain management, and stimuli comprehension. With such a wide array of responsibilities, you can see why such an important area is tucked away within the brain stem, allowing it the most protection possible.

Key Terms, Locations & Functions

reticularformation

Key Terms Locations & Functions
Reticular Formation nerve network of nuclei clusters in the brain stem
Dorsal Tegmental Nuclei located in the midbrain
Central Tegmental Nuclei located in the pon
Central Nuclei/Inferior Nuclei are found in the medulla
Ascending Reticular Formation in charge of sleep cycles
Descending Reticular Formation covers the posture and autonomic nervous system functions

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge of this lesson on the reticular formation will allow you to:

  • Describe the reticular formation
  • Identify the various nuclei and sections that comprise it
  • Specify the functions of these formations


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Reticular Formation

The reticular formation is a portion of the brain that is located in the central core of the brain stem. It passes through the medulla, pons, and stops in the midbrain. Its functions can be classified into 4 categories: motor control, sensory control, visceral control, and control of consciousness. Motor control refers to physical movements or activities such as walking or running. Sensory control consists of all the senses including pain. Visceral control encompasses breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Control of consciousness refers to alertness, sleeping, and various conscious states. Therefore, people who have difficulties with pain, alertness, or physical coordination might have damage to their reticular formation.



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