The pons is part of the brain stem located between the medulla oblongata on the bottom and the midbrain on the top. Pons is Latin for bridge, and it perfectly describes the role of this structure.
Together with the medulla, the pons serves as the bridge between the spinal cord and the cerebrum. It also connects the cerebrum to the cerebellum, allowing these two main brain regions to coordinate their function.
At just under an inch in length, the pons is a small yet vital part of the brain.
In this article, we take a closer look at the key functions of the pons and explain why this region of the brain stem is so important for your brain and your entire body.
What Is The Function Of The Pons In The Brain?
Rather than being responsible for one or two brain functions, the pons plays a multitude of roles that would be very difficult to list in full. Because all impulses traveling to and from the cerebral cortex pass through the pons, this structure can be linked to any higher brain function that takes place in the cortex.
Due to its position in the brain, the pons is responsible for relaying signals across different brain regions.
The pons also houses the nuclei of several important cranial nerves. These include the trigeminal nerve, which is in charge of motor and sensory functions of the face, as well as the vestibulocochlear nerve, which is involved in hearing. There is also the abducens nerve, which is in charge of eye movement.
In addition to these functions, the pons plays a role in numerous other processes, including balance, taste, voluntary movement, and sensation of pain.
What Does The Pons Regulate?
The pons is also involved in the regulation of breathing.
Namely, this part of the brain stem houses the pneumotaxic center, a large group of nerve cells that are in charge of several key aspects of the breathing process. These nerves determine your breathing rate, i.e. how much air you need to breathe in and how often you need to do it.
For example, when you’re running, you’ll need more oxygen and your breathing rate will increase. On the other hand, while you’re resting, your breathing rate will decrease. This is all regulated by the pons.
The pons also helps regulate deep sleep, particularly the REM sleep stage.
While you’re sleeping, the pons (along with the medulla oblongata) instructs the muscles in your body to relax, thus ensuring that you don’t act out your dreams. Conversely, an impaired pons function causes people to act out their dreams, a condition known as the REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD).
What Happens When The Pons In The Brain Is Damaged?
Because it plays an instrumental role in transmitting nerve signals across different areas of the brain, any injury or damage to the pons may result in serious problems. They most often include sensory problems, sexual dysfunctions (due to impaired arousal function), and sleep disturbances.
Sometimes, however, the problems can be more severe.
For example, damage to neural pathways in the pons may limit your voluntary control. Known as locked-in syndrome, this condition could lead to quadriplegia or even render you unable to speak.
If the arteries leading to the pons become clogged, it limits the flow of blood to your brain. This, in turn, causes a condition known as a lacunar stroke, which is characterized by symptoms that range from speaking and walking difficulties to paralysis and loss of memory.
In extreme cases, damage to the pons may lead to coma or death.
Why Is The Pons Important?
The pons is important because it transfers messages between different parts of the brain.
Without a fully functioning pons, your brain wouldn’t be able to work to its full potential. Messages would get lost, certain impulses wouldn’t be able to reach their brain destination, and you wouldn’t be able to perform all the tasks that you would otherwise have no problem doing.
The Final Word
In addition to its many important functions, the pons is significant because it allows you to enter REM sleep. Deep sleep has a refreshing effect on your mind and is extremely beneficial for your body.
As Jim Kwik, Author of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Program, says, “Sleep is one of the best life hacks there is.”
What do you do to improve your sleep quality? Share your tips in the comments below.