The adult human brain weighs on average about 3 lb (1.5 kg) with a size of around 1130 cubic centimetres (cm3) in women and 1260 cm3 in men, although there is substantial individual variation. Men's brains are on average 100g heavier than a woman's, even when corrected for body size differences The brain is very soft, having a consistency similar to soft gelatin or firm tofu. Despite being referred to as "grey matter", the live cortex is pinkish-beige in color and slightly off-white in the interior. The photo on the right shows a horizontal slice of the head of an adult man, from the National Library of Medicine's Visible Human Project. In this project, two human cadavers (from a man and a woman) were frozen and then sliced into thin sections, which were individually photographed and digitized. The slice here is taken from a small distance below the top of the brain, and shows the cerebral cortex (the convoluted cellular layer on the outside) and the underlying white matter, which consists of myelinated fiber tracts traveling to and from the cerebral cortex. At the age of 20, a man has around 176,000 km and a woman, about 149,000 km of myelinated axons in their brains.
The cerebral hemispheres form the largest part of the human brain and are situated above most other brain structures. They are covered with a cortical layer with a convoluted topography. Underneath the cerebrum lies the brainstem, resembling a stalk on which the cerebrum is attached. At the rear of the brain, beneath the cerebrum and behind the brainstem, is the cerebellum, a structure with a horizontally furrowed surface that makes it look different from any other brain area. The same structures are present in other mammals, although the cerebellum is not so large relative to the rest of the brain. As a rule, the smaller the cerebrum, the less convoluted the cortex. The cortex of a rat or mouse is almost completely smooth. The cortex of a dolphin or whale, on the other hand, is more convoluted than the cortex of a human.
The dominant feature of the human brain is ''corticalization''. The cerebral cortex in humans is so large that it overshadows every other part of the brain. A few subcortical structures show alterations reflecting this trend. The cerebellum, for example, has a medial zone connected mainly to subcortical motor areas, and a lateral zone connected primarily to the cortex. In humans the lateral zone takes up a much larger fraction of the cerebellum than in most other mammalian species. Corticalization is reflected in function as well as structure. In a rat, surgical removal of the entire cerebral cortex leaves an animal that is still capable of walking around and interacting with the environment. In a human, comparable cerebral cortex damage produces a permanent state of coma.
The cerebral cortex is nearly symmetric in outward form, with left and right hemispheres. Anatomists conventionally divide each hemisphere into four "lobes", the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and occipital lobe. It is important to realize that this categorization does not actually arise from the structure of the cortex itself: the lobes are named after the bones of the skull that overlie them. There is one exception: the border between the frontal and parietal lobes is shifted backward to the central sulcus, a deep fold that marks the line where the primary somatosensory cortex and primary motor cortex come together.
Researchers who study the functions of the cortex divide it into three functional categories of regions, or areas. One consists of the primary sensory areas, which receive signals from the sensory nerves and tracts by way of relay nuclei in the thalamus. Primary sensory areas include the visual area of the occipital lobe, the auditory area in the temporal lobe, and the somatosensory area in the parietal lobe. A second category is the primary motor area, which sends axons down to motor neurons in the brainstem and spinal chord. This area occupies the rear portion of the frontal lobe, directly in front of the somatosensory area. The third category consists of the remaining parts of the cortex, which are called the association areas. These areas receive input from the sensory areas and lower parts of the brain and are involved in the complex process that we call perception, thought, and decision making. The amount of association cortex, relative to the other two categories, increase dramatically as one goes from simpler mammals, such as the rat and the cat, to more complex ones, such as the chimpanzee and the human.
The cerebral cortex is essentially a sheet of neural tissue, folded in a way that allows a large surface area to fit within the confines of the skull. Each cerebral hemisphere, in fact, has a total surface area of about 1.3 square feet. Anatomists call each cortical fold a sulcus, and the smooth area between folds a gyrus. Most human brains show a similar pattern of folding, but there are enough variations in the shape and placement of folds to make every brain unique. Nevertheless, the pattern is consistent enough for each major fold to have a name, for example, the "superior frontal gyrus", "postcentral sulcus", or "trans-occipital sulcus". Deep folding features in brain such as the inter-hemispheric and lateral fissure, and the insular cortex are present in almost all normal subjects.
Different parts of the cerebral cortex are involved in different cognitive and behavioral functions. The differences show up in a number of ways: the effects of localized brain damage, regional activity patterns exposed when the brain is examined using functional imaging techniques, connectivity with subcortical areas, and regional differences in the cellular architecture of the cortex. Anatomists describe most of the cortex—the part they call ''isocortex''—as having six layers, but not all layers are apparent in all areas, and even when a layer is present, its thickness and cellular organization may vary. Several anatomists have constructed maps of cortical areas on the basis of variations in the appearance of the layers as seen with a microscope. One of the most widely used schemes came from Brodmann, who split the cortex into 51 different areas and assigned each a number (anatomists have since subdivided many of the Brodmann areas). For example, Brodmann area 1 is the primary somatosensory cortex, Brodmann area 17 is the primary visual cortex, and Brodmann area 25 is the anterior cingulate cortex.
Many of the brain areas Brodmann defined have their own complex internal structures. In a number of cases, brain areas are organized into "topographic maps", where adjoining bits of the cortex correspond to adjoining parts of the body, or of some more abstract entity. A simple example of this type of correspondence is the primary motor cortex, a strip of tissue running along the anterior edge of the central sulcus, shown in the image to the right. Motor areas innervating each part of the body arise from a distinct zone, with neighboring body parts represented by neighboring zones. Electrical stimulation of the cortex at any point causes a muscle-contraction in the represented body part. This "somatotopic" representation is not evenly distributed, however. The head, for example, is represented by a region about three times as large as the zone for the entire back and trunk. The size of a zone correlates to the precision of motor control and sensory discrimination possible. The areas for the lips, fingers, and tongue are particularly large, considering the proportional size of their represented body parts.
In visual areas, the maps are retinotopic—that is, they reflect the topography of the retina, the layer of light-activated neurons lining the back of the eye. In this case too the representation is uneven: the fovea—the area at the center of the visual field—is greatly overrepresented compared to the periphery. The visual circuitry in the human cerebral cortex contains several dozen distinct retinotopic maps, each devoted to analyzing the visual input stream in a particular way . The primary visual cortex (Brodmann area 17), which is the main recipient of direct input from the visual part of the thalamus, contains many neurons that are most easily activated by edges with a particular orientation moving across a particular point in the visual field. Visual areas farther downstream extract features such as color, motion, and shape.
In auditory areas, the primary map is tonotopic. Sounds are parsed according to frequency (i.e., high pitch vs. low pitch) by subcortical auditory areas, and this parsing is reflected by the primary auditory zone of the cortex. As with the visual system, there are a number of tonotopic cortical maps, each devoted to analyzing sound in a particular way.
Within a topographic map there can sometimes be finer levels of spatial structure. In the primary visual cortex, for example, where the main organization is retinotopic and the main responses are to moving edges, cells that respond to different edge-orientations are spatially segregated from one another.
Each hemisphere of the brain interacts primarily with one half of the body, but for reasons that are unclear, the connections are crossed: the left side of the brain interacts with the right side of the body, and vice versa. Motor connections from the brain to the spinal cord, and sensory connections from the spinal cord to the brain, both cross the midline at brainstem levels. Visual input follows a more complex rule: the optic nerves from the two eyes come together at a point called the optic chiasm, and half of the fibers from each nerve split off to join the other. The result is that connections from the left half of the retina, in both eyes, go to the left side of the brain, whereas connections from the right half of the retina go to the right side of the brain. Because each half of the retina receives light coming from the opposite half of the visual field, the functional consequence is that visual input from the left side of the world goes to the right side of the brain, and vice versa. Thus, the right side of the brain receives somatosensory input from the left side of the body, and visual input from the left side of the visual field—an arrangement that presumably is helpful for visuomotor coordination.
The two cerebral hemispheres are connected by a very large nerve bundle called the corpus callosum, which crosses the midline above the level of the thalamus. There are also two much smaller connections, the anterior commisure and hippocampal commisure, as well as many subcortical connections that cross the midline. The corpus callosum is the main avenue of communication between the two hemispheres, though. It connects each point on the cortex to the mirror-image point in the opposite hemisphere, and also connects to functionally related points in different cortical areas.
In most respects, the left and right sides of the brain are symmetrical in terms of function. For example, the counterpart of the left-hemisphere motor area controlling the right hand is the right-hemisphere area controlling the left hand. There are, however, several very important exceptions, involving language and spatial cognition. In most people, the left hemisphere is "dominant" for language: a stroke that damages a key language area in the left hemisphere can leave the victim unable to speak or understand, whereas equivalent damage to the right hemisphere would cause only minor impairment to language skills.
A substantial part of our current understanding of the interactions between the two hemispheres has come from the study of "split-brain patients"—people who underwent surgical transection of the corpus callosum in an attempt to reduce the severity of epileptic seizures. These patients do not show unusual behavior that is immediately obvious, but in some cases can behave almost like two different people in the same body, with the right hand taking an action and then the left hand undoing it. Most such patients, when briefly shown a picture on the right side of the point of visual fixation, are able to describe it verbally, but when the picture is shown on the left, are unable to describe it, but may be able to give an indication with the left hand of the nature of the object shown.
It should be noted that the differences between left and right hemispheres are greatly overblown in much of the popular literature on this topic. The existence of differences has been solidly established, but many popular books go far beyond the evidence in attributing features of personality or intelligence to the left or right hemisphere dominance.
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