Reticular Formation: Definition & Functions

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  • 0:00 What Is Reticular Formation?
  • 1:41 What Does It Do?
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary
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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.

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