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11.7E: Limbic System

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    The limbic system makes up the inner border of the cortex and is vital for emotion, motivation, and memory.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVE

     

    Describe the functions of the limbic system

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • The lymbic system includes the hippocampus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei, septum, limbic cortex, and fornix, which together support a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, and olfaction.
    • The limbic system operates by influencing the endocrine system and the autonomic nervous system. It is highly interconnected with the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s pleasure center, which plays a role in sexual arousal and the “high” derived from certain recreational drugs.
    • The limbic system is also tightly connected to the prefrontal cortex. Some scientists contend that this connection is related to the pleasure obtained from solving problems.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • nucleus accumbens: A collection of neurons that forms the main part of the ventral striatum. It is thought to play an important role in reward, pleasure, laughter, addiction, aggression, fear, and the placebo effect.
    • hippocampus: A part of the brain located inside the temporal lobe consisting mainly of gray matter. It is a component of the limbic system and plays a role in memory and emotion.
    • mammillary bodies: Act as a relay for impulses coming from the amygdalae and hippocampi.
    • prefrontal cortex: The anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain, lying in front of the motor and premotor areas. This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior, but its primary function is the orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.
    • septal nucle: Play a role in reward and reinforcement along with the nucleus accumbens.

    The limbic system, or paleomammalian brain, is a set of brain structures in the precortex and subcortex of the brain. It includes the hippocampus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei, septum, limbic cortex, and fornix, and supports a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, and olfaction. The term “limbic” comes from the Latin limbus, for “border” or “edge,” because the limbic system forms the inner border of the cortex.

    Limbic System Anatomy

    This diagram of the limbic system delineates the corpus callosum, fornix, pineal gland, cingulate gyrus, hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, amygdaloid body, hypothalamus, mamillary body, and anterior group of thalamic nuclei.

     

    The Limbic System: This diagram of the limbic system delineates components of the diencephalon and cerebrum.

     

    The limbic system consists of various structures that each support distinctive brain functions.

    Hippocampus and Associated Structures

    • Hippocampus: Required for the formation of long-term memories and implicated in maintenance of cognitive maps for navigation.
    • Amygdala: Involved in signaling the cortex of motivationally-significant stimuli, such as those related to reward and fear, and in social functions, such as mating.
    • Fornix: A white matter structure that carries signals from the hippocampus to the mammillary bodies and septal nuclei.
    • Mammillary body: Important for the formation of memory.

    Septal Nuclei

    • These lie below the rostrum of the corpus callosum and anterior to the lamina terminalis. The septal nuclei receive reciprocal connections from the olfactory bulb, hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, midbrain, habenula, cingulate gyrus, and thalamus.

    Limbic Lobe

    A phylogenetically old structure consisting of the following structures:

    • Parahippocampal gyrus: Plays a role in the formation of spatial memory
    • Cingulate gyrus: Conducts autonomic functions regulating heart rate, blood pressure, and cognitive and attentional processing
    • Dentate gyrus: Thought to contribute to the formation of new memories

    Additional Structures

    • Entorhinal cortex: Important memory and associative components
    • Piriform cortex: Processes olfactory information
    • Fornicate gyrus: Region encompassing the cingulate and parahippocampal gyrus
    • Nucleus accumbens: Involved in reward, pleasure, and addiction
    • Orbitofrontal cortex: Involved in cognitive processing during decision-making

    Limbic System Function

    The limbic system operates by influencing the endocrine system and the autonomic nervous system. It is highly interconnected with the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s pleasure center, which plays a role in sexual arousal and the “high” derived from certain recreational drugs.

    The structures of the limbic system are involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory.

    The limbic system is also tightly connected to the prefrontal cortex. Some scientists contend that this connection is related to the pleasure obtained from solving problems. To cure severe emotional disorders, this connection was sometimes surgically severed, a procedure of psychosurgery called a prefrontal lobotomy. Patients who underwent this procedure often became passive and lacked motivation.

     

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