The Limbic System
The Limbic System is a complex set of structures found just beneath the cerebrum and on both sides of the thalamus. It combines higher mental functions, and primitive emotion, into one system. It is often referred to as the emotional nervous system. It is not only responsible for our emotional lives, but also our higher mental functions, such as learning and formation of memories. The Limbic system explains why some things seem so pleasurable to us, such as eating and why some medical conditions are caused by mental stress, such as high blood pressure. There are two significant structures within the limbic system and several smaller structures that are important as well. They are: 1. The Hippocampus 2. The Amygdala 3. The Thalamus 4. The Hypothalamus 5. The Fornix and Parahippocampus 6. The Cingulate Gyrus
The Hippocampus is found deep in the temporal lobe, shaped like a seahorse. It consists of two horns that curve back from the amygdala. It is situated in the brain so as to make the prefrontal area aware of our past experiences stored in that area. The prefrontal area of the brain consults this structure to use memories to modify our behavior. The hippocampus is responsible for memory.
The Amygdala is a little almond shaped structure, deep inside the anteroinferior region of the temporal lobe, connects with the hippocampus, the septi nuclei, the prefrontal area and the medial dorsal nucleus of the thalamus. These connections make it possible for the amigdala to play its important role on the mediation and control of such activities and feelings as love, friendship, affection, and expression of mood. The amygdala is the center for identification of danger and is fundamental for self preservation. The amygdala is the nucleus responsible for fear.
Lesions or stimulation of the medial, dorsal, and anterior nuclei of the thalamus are associated with changes in emotional reactivity. However, the importance of these nuclei on the regulation of emotional behavior is not due to the thalamus itself, but to the connections of these nuclei with other limbic system structures. The medial dorsal nucleus makes connections with cortical zones of the prefrontal area and with the hypothalamus. The anterior nuclei connect with the mamillary bodies and through them, via fornix, with the hippocampus and the cingulated gyrus, thus taking part in what is known as the Papez's circuit.