Brain Stem

Below the diencephalon, the brain stem narrows. This region has three main divisions: midbrain, pons, and medulla oblongata. The midbrain relays visual and auditory information. The pons relays communications between the cerebral hemispheres and the cerebellum. The medulla oblongata (mi-DUHL-uh AHB-lahn-GAHT-uh) serves as both a relay center and a control center for heart rate, respiration rate, and other homeostatic activities.

Lying throughout the brain stem is a diffuse network of neurons called the reticular formation. The reticular formation helps control respiration and circulation and helps separate signals that demand attention from those that are unimportant. Learning can modify some functions of the reticular formation. For example, a person can learn to sleep through the noise of a radio but awaken at the sound of a doorbell.

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