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The brain and spinal cord

The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system (CNS). Together, the different parts of the CNS control the activities of the mind and body.

The brain – The brain receives and interprets information carried to it via nerves from the sensory organs that control taste, smell, touch, sight and hearing. It also sends messages via nerves to the muscles and organs. The brain is responsible for memory, personality and behaviour. The main parts of the brain are the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the brain stem.

Spinal cord – The spinal cord extends from the brain stem to the lower back. It is made up of nerve tissue that connects the brain to all parts of the body through a network of nerves called the peripheral nervous system. The spinal cord lies in the spinal canal, protected by a series of bony vertebrae called the spinal column.

Meninges – These are thin layers of protective tissue (membranes) that cover both the brain and spinal cord.

Cerebrospinal fluid – Also known as CSF, cerebrospinal fluid is found inside the skull and spinal column. It surrounds the brain and spinal cord and protects it from injury.

Pituitary gland – This is found at the base of the brain and is about the size of a pea. The pituitary gland releases chemical messengers (hormones) into the blood. These hormones control many body functions, including growth and development, and also tell other glands to start or stop releasing hormones.

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in May 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Andrew Davidson, Neurosurgeon, Macquarie University Hospital, NSW; Dr Lucy Gately, Medical Oncologist, Oncology Clinics Victoria, and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, VIC; Melissa Harrison, Allied Health Manager and Senior Neurological Physiotherapist, Advance Rehab Centre, NSW; Scott Jones, Consumer; Anne King, Neurology Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Health Department, WA; Dr Toni Lindsay, Senior Clinical Psychologist and Allied Health Manager, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Elissa McVey, Consumer; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Claire Phillips, Deputy Director, Radiation Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC.