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School Biology revision notes: Brain 1. Structure and function of brain

The Brain 1. The functions of the main parts of the brain and the spinal cord

Doc Brown's GCSE level Biology exam study revision notes

There are various sections to work through, after 1 they can be read and studied in any order.

Sub-index for biology notes on the brain's structure and function

(1) The spinal cord and the main parts of the brain and their function

The brain and spinal cord are all part of the central nervous system.

The brain is extraordinarily complex, consisting of billions of interconnected neurones.

Using these interconnected neurones pathways the brain is responsible for the control and coordination of all our complex behaviour - everything that happens to us, either consciously, unconsciously. Its the boss!

Research over many years has shown that different parts of the brain perform different functions.

gcse biology diagram of brain cerebral cortex cerebrum cerebellum hypothalamus spinal cord medulla oblongata pituitary gland

VERY simplified diagram of the brain!

The brain can be considered to have several main regions

The cerebral cortex of the brain (in front and around the cerebrum - cerebral hemispheres)

The cerebrum is largest part of the brain, rather wrinkly in nature and split into two halves called cerebral hemispheres and initiates and coordinates movement and regulates temperature.

Other areas of the cerebrum enable speech, judgment, thinking and reasoning, problem-solving, emotions and learning. Other functions relate to vision, hearing, touch and other senses.

The right hemisphere of the cerebrum controls muscles on the left side of your body and the left hemisphere controls the muscles on the right side of your body.

The highly folded cerebral cortex is found in the upper outer regions of the brain in front of the cerebrum and it dominates the mammalian brain both physically and functionally.

The cerebral cortex is associated with all the higher functions of the brain - in a very real way, it makes you who you are as an individual.

Each of the cerebral cortex lobes is responsible for processing different types of information. Collectively, your cerebral cortex is responsible for the higher-level processes of the human brain, including language, memory, reasoning, thought, learning, decision-making, emotion, intelligence, movement, vision and personality.


The cerebellum of the brain

The cerebellum is in the lower part of the brain near where it connects with the spinal cord.

The cerebellum is responsible for conscious movement - muscle coordination and posture-balance.


The medulla oblongata, part of the brain stem

The medulla oblongata is at the base of the brain where the brain connects with the spinal cord.

The medulla oblongata is the lower part of the brain stem.

The medulla oblongata controls unconscious activities like breathing and your heartbeat.

These are bodily functions you wouldn't normally think about - they just happen thanks to the medulla.


The hypothalamus of the brain

The hypothalamus, in the centre of the brain, is involved with keeping body temperature constant - so involved with aspects of homeostasis.

The hypothalamus produces hormones that control the functioning of the pituitary gland.


The pituitary gland in the brain - adjacent to the hypothalamus

The pituitary is a gland that produces many important hormones e.g. those involved in the menstrual cycle. It communicates with the hypothalamus (see above).


The spinal cord

The spinal cord connects the brain and the rest of the peripheral nervous system

For more details see notes on the  nervous system and reflex arc etc.

The brain stem links the cerebellum to the top of the spinal cord.

The spinal cord is built of a long column of nerve cells (neurones) that run from the base of the brain down through the spine of your body.

The spinal cord consists of tracts of ascending sensory nerve fibres and descending effector nerve fibres. These of course work together in negative feedback systems and reflex arcs - so any damage to the spinal cord has serious consequences.

At various points down the spine, neurones branch off and connect with all the rest of the parts of the body.

The spinal cord relays all the nerve pulses of information between the brain and the rest of the body.

Summary of learning objectives and key words or phrases for how the brain works

Appreciate that the brain is very complex and different regions perform different functions.

Describe and explain the function of the cerebral cortex

Describe and explain the function of the medulla oblongata

Describe and explain the function of the cerebellum

Describe and explain the function of the brain stem

Describe and explain the function of the spinal cord

Describe and explain the function of the pituitary gland



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