Medulla oblongata, characteristics and functions

Simon Doyle
Medulla oblongata, characteristics and functions

The nervous system is an organization of structures and systems that works as a whole whose parts are connected at different levels. Some of these parts are extremely crucial for the general functioning of living beings and one of them is the medulla oblongata, a very important structure of the brain whose activity allows us to be able to perform many functions such as regulating our blood pressure and even breathing..


  • What is the medulla oblongata?
  • Medulla oblongata location
  • Functions of the medulla oblongata
  • Medulla oblongata problems and their consequences
    • Links of interest

What is the medulla oblongata?

The medulla oblongata is the most caudal structure of the brain stem. It is a rounded protrusion, made up of white matter and gray matter, that functions as the main connector between the spinal cord and the central nervous system..

The medulla oblongata is divided into different zones. A median fissure in the anterior zone connects this structure with the spinal cord. On both sides of the bulb are the pyramids, the most important area in this structure, which connect the bulb with the spinal cord. Outward is the preolivary groove. The medulla oblongata is also the center where the nerves on one side of the brain and the other meet, that is, the meeting point between one hemisphere and another..

Medulla oblongata location

The medulla oblongata, also known as the medulla oblongata, is located in a key area of ​​the nervous system: between the brainstem bridge at the top and the spinal cord at the bottom. Previously, it is placed in front of the cerebellum and its important location connects the spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system with the central nervous system. That is, it is the connection point between muscles and organs of the body with the brain. It does this by transferring the information that comes from the peripheral nervous system to a structure called the thalamus, which selects the stimuli that will be later transferred to the rest of the brain according to their importance..

In addition, it also connects the two cerebral hemispheres whose nerves are in this structure, so an injury to one side of the bulb can cause the opposite hemisphere to present problems..

The medulla oblongata receives oxygen through different arteries, such as the anterior spinal artery, the inferior posterior cerebellar artery, and direct branches of the vertebral artery. In addition, the medulla oblongata is made up of myelinated and demyelinated nerve fibers: that is, white matter and gray matter..

Functions of the medulla oblongata

The medulla oblongata is involved in different involuntary functions and due to its connecting role between the spinal cord and the brain, its importance is key for the survival of the human being, carrying out actions such as:

  • Control of autonomous functions
  • Coordination of involuntary body movements. These involuntary reflex movements can be swallowing food, sneezing or nausea, among many other reflex movements..
  • Control and coordination of voluntary movements such as movement of the head or important movements for speaking
  • Respiratory control
  • Cardiovascular control: being in charge of reversing the heart rate or blood pressure
  • Controls and regulates visceral functions and gastrointestinal functions
  • The transfer of sensory information between the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is made up of nerves and ganglia around the body that connect organs and muscles to the central nervous system. This connector is the medulla oblongata, which sends information from the rest of the body to the thalamus, which later sends it to the rest of the brain..

Medulla oblongata problems and their consequences

Problems and injuries in this structure can cause different difficulties related to many sensory and coordinating systems. These can translate into problems with tasting, movement, breathing, or even heart rate.

As we have explained previously, the medulla oblongata is involved in many important physical processes, such as breathing and even the diameter of the arteries and veins, sneezing or even swallowing. That is why damage to this structure can interfere with crucial functions, leading to problems such as:

  • Paralysis
  • Vertigo
  • Swallowing problems
  • Trouble making movements like turning your head
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • As it is the meeting point between the two hemispheres, damage to one side of the medulla oblongata can cause problems on the other side of the body..

Some of these deficits can be caused by the use of drugs such as opiates. These, in large quantities, can inhibit the functioning of this structure, with the consequent difficulty in breathing or in maintaining the heart rate, which in cases of severe overdose can be fatal. Because it is the key meeting point between the nerves of each hemisphere and the ascending and descending tracts of the nervous system, its damage can pose a danger to the normal functions of living beings.

Links of interest

  • Medulla Oblongata.
  • What Is the Medulla Oblongata? (2018).
  • Medulla oblongata.

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