brain stem, lower part of the brain, adjoining and structurally continuous with the spinal cord. The upper segment of the human brain stem, the pons, contains nerve fibers that connect the two halves of the cerebellum. It is vital in coordinating movements involving right and left sides of the body. Below the pons and continuous with the spinal cord is the medulla, which transmits ascending and descending nerve fibers between the spinal cord and the brain. The medulla also directly controls many involuntary muscular and glandular activities, including breathing, heart contraction, artery dilation, salivation, vomiting, and probably laughing. The nuclei of some of the nerves that originate in the brain are also located in the brain stem. Nerve fibers in the brain stem do not readily regenerate, hence injury may result in permanent loss of function. See also nervous system.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.