Function of Pons in the Brain

Pons is located in the upper part of the brain stem. So, what is its function? Is it affected by midbrain injuries? Let us find out in this Bodytomy article.
Bodytomy Staff
The human brain is one of the most fascinating organs that exists in the universe. It is a complex organ that has so many parts and functions that the exact areas of the brain and their functions are still being studied. The brain is generally divided into three parts, which are forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain. The forebrain contains the main part of the brain, which is the cerebrum that forms a bulk of the brain. The midbrain consists of the tectum, tegmentum, and the cerebral peduncles. The hindbrain contains the medulla oblongata, pons, and the cerebellum.

Pons is the region that is located superior to the medulla oblongata, inferior to the midbrain, and ventral to the cerebellum. In simple words, in humans, the pons is above the medulla oblongata, below the midbrain, and anterior to the cerebellum. However, what many people do not know is what function does it actually perform. There are many functions that are served by this part of the brain.

Function of Pons
The pons forms a very small part of the brain, as it measures only around 2.5 cm in length. Most of it appears as a broad anterior bulge that is present above the medulla oblongata. However, one shouldn't be fooled by its size, as the pons is a very important part of the brain's pathways. On the posterior side, it consists mainly of two pairs of thick stalks, which are known as cerebellar peduncles.

It acts as an important sensory relay system which provides information to different parts of the nervous system like the cerebellum, cerebrum, and even the spinal cord. Its function is mostly to provide input to the cerebellar cortex through structures known as the pontine nuclei, which allow the cerebellum to coordinate most of its control.
The main function of pons is to basically act as a bridge or highway for relay of many signals to and from the cerebrum and the cerebellum. This is the center that acts as the point of origin for various nerves in the body, including the important cranial nerves.
The different nerves that emerge from the pons include:
  • Trigeminal nerve ― This is the fifth cranial nerve which is both sensory and motor in nature. It is responsible for sensation on the face and it also innervates the muscles of the mandible, which are responsible for biting, chewing, and swallowing food.
  • Abducens nerve ― This is a motor nerve which is responsible for sideways movement of the eyes.
  • Facial nerve ― This is a motor nerve which affects the muscles of facial expression, like muscles that help in smiling, raising eyebrows, and bringing about various expressions on the face, like shock, fear, joy, etc.
  • Vestibulocochlear nerve ― This is a sensory nerve which has two parts ― the cochlear portion, which is involved with transmission of sound from the ear to the brain. The other part is the vestibular portion, which transmits information from the inner ear and helps in maintaining balance and coordination.
The primary function of pons is also to act as a motor relay center. Many of the descending nerve fibers of various tracts synapse in the region of the pons, which only go on to show how important pons function is.
The importance of the pons cannot be underplayed for the simple reason that it is so closely associated with the brain stem. This is the region that is involved in basic life sustaining activities, like respiration, reflexes, etc.
The apneustic center, which is located in the lower pons is the center that stimulates inspiration of air and the pneumotaxic center, located in the upper pons, inhibits inspiration by decreasing the activity of the phrenic nerve.
As a part of functions, it is said that the dorsal part of the midbrain and the brain stem is also an important center for consciousness and for maintaining alertness and fatigue levels of an individual.
Hence, some experts believe that the pons may play a vital role in REM sleep cycle and in arousal as well. This is the reason why brain stem injury is said to be a possibly life-threatening injury.

If you wish to know more about the function of other parts of the brain, going through diagram of the brain and its functions may be of help. In the end, there are still many aspects of this organ that are yet to be understood!