What is the Reticular Formation?
Written by Cheri Dotterer
Have you ever looked at any digital renderings of the brain? Have you ever noticed how they become cross-sections of part of the medulla, pons, and midbrain with a line going through them? These renderings have not helped me understand the neural pathways. I needed to develop a longitudinal rendering. As we progress through this series, I will share more about the renderings.
Before we look at the primitive reflexes, we need to 1st talk about some key structures inside your neural network. The first structure is the Reticular Formation (RF). When learning about this structure in school, it was depicted as a narrow tube in the posterior part of the brainstem and controlled sensory input from the body. When exploring primitive reflexes, we need to understand that the RF is a large portion of the brainstem. All the sensory tracks come through the RF. That is four senses plus the hidden senses. the olfactory system does not go through the particular formation. Those hidden senses include proprioception, vestibular, and kinesthetic. These receptors are deep inside our bodies. The RF also houses some motor tracks.
Why is the RF so important?
It controls what gets from our body to our conscious brain. It controls autonomic regulation. Your autonomic system is that system that you do not think about such as the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, digestion, bladder control, etc. It controls your wake and sleep cycle. There is also a part of it that links the autonomic nervous system to the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems. It also helps control how we coordinate what we see with how we move.
The RF is kind of like our body’s World Wide Web. It encompasses most of the space in your brainstem. It descends from the spinal cord to the thalamus. It contains mostly gray matter.
I will continue to explain how the RF and primitive reflexes work together over the next several weeks. For now, understand that this primitive part of the brain and the reflexes that we are born with work strongly together as we mature. If you’d like to learn more, go to this website for great tutorials about neuroanatomy.