Brain Structures and Functions Part I

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  • 0:06 Alien Abduction
  • 1:17 Brain Anatomy
  • 3:16 Fight or Flight
  • 4:02 Sleep
  • 5:31 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Robert Egan
The brain's complexity can often be difficult to understand because it serves so many important functions. In this lesson, you'll get a little help from Nrr, the alien biologist, who will guide you through understanding the structure and functions of the human brain.

Alien Abduction

This is Nrr. He is a biologist who has come to Earth to study Human Neurobiology.

This is Phil. He is Nrr's research subject.

One night, Nrr and his research assistant Blrr brought Phil onboard their research ship while he was sleeping and implanted a brain-monitoring device. They then released the subject back into his native habitat (his house) without him ever knowing what happened. Now Nrr and Blrr can monitor Phil's every thought and emotion and map the parts of his brain that are stimulated in any given situation. They can even see and hear everything that Phil's ears and eyes can!

After three weeks of monitoring Phil's brain activity, his different body functions, his thoughts and even tracing some of the neural signals sent to and from the brain, all of the data has now been processed by the research ship's powerful central computer. Now the results are in, and Nrr is not disappointed. In front of him is a diagram of the human brain with a list of biological functions associated with each part. Let's take a look at that diagram and see what Nrr discovered about the human brain. This diagram shows basically what the human brain looks like if it was cut in half just about in the middle between the right and left sides, so that Nrr can see what the structures in the middle of the brain look like.

Brain Stem

We'll start with the brain stem which is the part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord, Nrr discovered that the brain stem regulated many vital, but basic processes such as regulates heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, swallowing, and digestion.

Diagram of the brain stem
Brain Stem


Located just above the brain stem is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a brain structure which is critical for the formation of new memories and spatial orientation. Nrr's studies indicated that this part of the brain might be important for memory formation and spatial orientation. However, we know that these are critical roles of the hippocampus because several studies of people with extensive hippocampal damage have shown that they cannot form new long-term memories after the damage and find themselves easily disoriented. In addition, in Alzheimer's disease, the hippocampus is one of the first parts of the brain that sustains damage, and memory loss and disorientation are among the first symptoms of the disease .


Above the forward part of the hippocampus is a brain structure called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that tells the body what it needs to do to survive and reproduce. It controls the internal thermostat of the body, hunger, thirst, the Fight or Flight response, the Rest and Digest Response and mating behavior.

Diagram of the hypothalamus


A little bit above and behind the hypothalamus is the thalamus, which is the relay station for sensory information to the cerebral cortex. The thalamus receives sensory signals from all of the sensory systems except for the olfactory system. It then processes the signals and sends them along to their associated area of the cerebral cortex where they are integrated with the conscious mind. The thalamus also controls Phil's conscious state, or basically if he is asleep or awake and how alert he is.

Sleep is basically a state where no sensory signals are sent to the cerebral cortex, and therefore the person is not aware of any of their senses. The sensory organs are still functioning and sending signals to the thalamus, but during sleep, the thalamus doesn't send the signals to the cerebral cortex.

Olfactory Bulbs

The olfactory bulbs are the structures in the brain that process signals from the olfactory sensory neurons.

Diagram of the olfactory bulbs
Olfactory Bulbs

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