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Reticular formation: functions and associated diseases

A good part of the brain structures they can be easily located and separated from the rest. However, there are others that, being more distributed over several parts of the brain, it costs more to detect.

The reticular formation is one of theseAlthough the fact that it is more discreet does not mean that it is less important. In fact, we need it to live and be aware of what happens to us.

Next we will see the characteristics of the reticular formation, its functions and the problems that can appear if something interferes in its state due to diseases or injuries.

What is the reticular formation?

The reticular formation is a network of neurons found between the brainstem and the diencephalon., specifically the thalamus. That is, it is located in one of the lowest parts of the brain, and therefore has a fundamental role in everything that happens in the upper areas.

As the reticular formation is a network of neurons, its limits and boundaries are diffuse, and it is not easy to know where it begins and where it ends. For example, with the naked eye it is practically impossible to locate it, and in any case it is possible to see in an approximate way the structures through which it is distributed.

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The “starting point” of the reticular formation is considered to be a part of the brain stem called the annular pons, between the medulla oblongata and the midbrain, and from there it rises until it reaches the thalamus, opening up more and more, like a fan. This formation is made up of a hundred groups of neurons scattered irregularly through the nervous tissue of these areas.


The reticular formation plays a fundamental role in regulating the level of consciousness that one has, a process in which the thalamus also intervenes especially. This means that your work has to do with the circadian rhythm and the appearance and disappearance of the dream, among other things.

On the other hand, another of the functions of this network of neurons is the regulation of the state of excitement, or alertness, a process parallel to that of the regulation of the conscious state.

As the reticular formation is at the gateway to the brain through its areas closest to the spinal cordIt also acts by filtering the information that comes from the senses, selecting pieces of data and discarding irrelevant parts that do not reach consciousness. In the same way, its relationship with the attentional and consciousness processes makes it intervene in the perception of physical pain and in the habituation processes to repetitive stimuli.

What's more, reticular formation influences involuntary and automatic movements, such as those that serve to maintain vital signs (heartbeat, for example). In that sense, it is one of the components of the nervous system without which we could not live.

His parts

The reticular formation can be divided into the following parts.

1. Central group of nuclei

A region of the reticular formation that in turn divides into posterolateral nuclei and medial nuclei.

2. Lateral group of nuclei

Divided into the reticular nucleus of the pontic tegmentum, lateral and paramedian nucleus.

3. Median group of nuclei

Also known as raphe nuclei, located in the medial area of ​​the brain stem. It is divided into the dark nucleus of the raphe and the great nucleus of the raphe.

Diseases associated with reticular formation

Diseases that affect the reticular formation are usually very serious, since interference with this brain region causes coma or death.

For example, Parkinson's disease in an advanced state it can deteriorate this network of neurons, as it expands throughout the nervous system. Similarly, narcolepsy, directly involved in altered states of consciousness, produces damaging effects on reticular formation.

Another disease related to this neural network is cataplexy, whose main symptom is the loss of muscle tone; somehow, in a waking state, the body begins to behave as if it were in a REM phase of sleep, which means that the brain is disconnected from the muscles.

Beyond diseases linked to deterioration processes of unknown causes or the action of viruses, injuries also can seriously alter the functioning of the reticular formation, leading to coma or brain death in a high number of patients. cases.

This is one of the most vulnerable areas of the nervous system, not only because it intervenes directly in the state of consciousness, but because it participates in the maintenance of basic vital functions without which there is sudden death due to hypoxia in the brain. That is why the functioning of this region is considered an indicator of the presence of life more reliable even that the recording of electrical activity by means of techniques such as EEG in more superficial areas of the cortex cerebral.

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