The Brain & Spinal Cord Connection

By Sabrina Espinoza

The brain and spinal cord are some of the most important parts of the human body. While the brain allows us to perform basic functions like breathing and eating/drinking, the spinal cord holds us upright by providing structure. Still, it can be surprising to discover just how closely connected these two parts really are.

Both the brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system (CNS), which is responsible for voluntary actions such as walking and talking, as well as some involuntary actions like breathing and digesting. The CNS is also responsible for our senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. Overall, this system, able to perform multiple jobs at the same time, is immensely important in our actions, movements, and thoughts.

The Parts of the Brain
Made up of nerve cells and soft tissue, the brain consists of three major parts: the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem.

The cerebrum is the largest part and fills up most of the skull, and is also separated into the left and right cerebral hemispheres. Besides controlling reactions to stimuli, the cerebrum contains smaller structures responsible for storing memories, learning, reading, thinking, communicating, and feeling emotions.

The cerebellum is located at the back of the brain, under the cerebrum. It controls balance, regulates movement, and maintains equilibrium. Furthermore the cerebellum helps with more complicated actions such as walking and talking.

Lastly, the brainstem helps with basic bodily functions like hunger, thirst, body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing. In addition, this small part connects the brain with the spinal cord, allowing the brain and other body parts to communicate.

However, the brain (specifically the cerebrum) can be further divided into various lobes, each with different functions.

For example, the frontal lobes help with problem solving, judgement, and motor abilities. In addition, the parietal lobes assist with handwriting, sensation, and body position while the temporal lobes deal with memory and hearing. Finally, the occipital lobes are involved with visual processing.
Clearly, the brain is an incredibly complex organ that allows us to perform almost all of the actions we do in daily life, ranging from walking to making decisions. It also gives us the ability to feel emotions and consciously think about the world around us.

Most importantly, the brain assists in performing the functions that keep us alive, helping our bodies breathe, digest, and even keep our heart pumping.

The Parts of the Spinal Cord
Just like the brain, the spinal cord is also made up of multiple parts. These structures , from top to bottom, are the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal segments. There are also 31 nerves that connect the spinal cord to different parts of the body, in order to carry signals between the CNS and other body regions.

In addition, the spinal cord is protected by three layers called meninges, consisting of the dura mater (outermost layer), arachnoid mater, and pia mater (deepest layer). Visually, meninges look similar to sheets of paper of varying thicknesses stacked on top of each other. Other forms of protection include the bony vertebrae of the backbone and cerebrospinal fluid (limits impact between spinal cord and vertebrae).

Without the spinal cord, signals could not be effectively sent between the brain and body, preventing us from being able to perform even the most basic movements. Likewise, our organs wouldn’t even be able to function!
Furthermore, our ability to feel certain sensations, such as touch and pressure, would be highly limited. The regulation of important bodily functions like digestion, urination, and homeostasis would be hindered as well.

While the brain is often seen as the main mastermind of the body, the spinal cord should not be ignored: it works together with the brain to help move our bodies, keep its systems in order, and experience a variety of sensations.

How Exactly Do the Brain & Spinal Cord Work Together?
Together the brain and spinal cord form the incredibly important and dynamic central nervous system. As stated before, the two parts are linked through the brainstem.

Through this connection, the brain can send signals to other parts of the body with the assistance of the spinal cord and its nerves, which act as a road for the signals to travel on. It’s important to note that these spinal nerves can be found stretched throughout the body, lining our bones, muscles, and organs.
An easier way to think about the central nervous system is viewing the brain as the command center of the body and the spinal cord as the pathway for the brain’s commands. However, the spinal cord also serves as the pathway for the body’s messages to the brain.

Making up the system that practically controls almost all of our voluntary and involuntary actions, as well as giving us the ability to feel emotions and express complex thoughts, the brain and spinal cord are a closely connected pair that help all humans and other animals live their daily lives.
Next time you’re doing something as simple as moving your fingers, remember that your central nervous system is working hard to allow you to perform that small action!

Sources

“How the spinal cord works.” Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, www.christopherreeve.org/living-with-paralysis/health/how-the-spinal-cord-works#site-header. Accessed 19 June 2021.

Cohut, Maria. “Seven (or more) things you didn’t know about your brain.” Medical News Today, 8 June 2018, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322081. Accessed 19 June 2021.

Hoffman, Matthew. “Picture of the Brain.” WebMD, 18 May 2019, www.webmd.com/brain/picture-of-the-brain. Accessed 19 June 2021.

“About The Brain and Spinal Cord.” University of Pittsburgh,
www.neurosurgery.pitt.edu/centers/neurosurgical-oncology/brain-and-brain-tumors/about. Accessed 19 June 2021.

“Central Nervous System: brain and spinal cord.” The University of Queensland, qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/brain-anatomy/central-nervous-system-brain-and-spinal-cord. Accessed 19 June 2021.

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