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Medulla oblongata

Learning objectives

After completing this study unit you will be able to:

  1. Describe the structures of the medulla oblongata and explain their functions.
  2. Recognize these structures in histological images.

Browse atlas

The medulla oblongata represents the lowest section of the brainstem and lies between the pons and spinal cord. It is responsible for numerous vital functions, including controlling breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, the medulla oblongata houses various core areas that are relevant for processing sensory and motor information.

The medulla oblongata consists of gray and white matter. Gray matter contains nuclei that are responsible for specific reflex functions such as coughing, sneezing and swallowing. The important core areas include, among others, the spinal trigeminal nucleus, the inferior olive nucleus complex and the dorsal column nuclei (cuneate and gracile nuclei), which process sensorimotor information. The white matter, on the other hand, contains ascending and descending fiber tracts that transmit information between the brain and the spinal cord.

The medulla oblongata is also the decussation point for the sensory fibers from the spinal cord and contains the medulla–spinal cord junction, where the fibers of the corticospinal tract cross almost entirely to the opposite side.

Learn more about the histology of the medulla oblongata by viewing the images below:

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