Your brainstem is the central apparatus of your entire nervous system. One portion of your brainstem is called the pons. The pons links your brain to your spinal cord.
Your pons handles all of your unconscious movements and processes. These cycles include everything from your sleeping to your breathing. Multiple nerve points in your pons also control your muscles and affect your head and facial nerves.
Pons Anatomy: What Is the Pons?
The pons is positioned between your midbrain and medulla oblongata. There are two subsections of your pons, the ventral and the dorsal.
The ventral portion. This section of your pons contains the pontine nuclei and crossing fibers.
The dorsal portion. This section of the pons is also known as the tegmentum. The inferior and superior cerebellar peduncle relates to this portion of the pons.
The pons is home to four of your twelve cranial nerves. The nerves found in your pons help you chew, blink, focus your vision, balance, produce tears, hear, and make facial expressions.
Where is the pons located? The pons is located in your brainstem. This is the lower part of your brain in front of your cerebellum. The pons connects to your spinal cord.
What Does the Pons Do?
The pons is a host to many nerve fibers, making it a vital structure for your brain. The nerve fibers in your pons connect the cerebrum and cerebellum. They also connect your brain's right and left parts.
The relay system in your brain, known as the pons, holds important messages and sends them to the appropriate parts of your brain. The primary function of the pons is to transmit signals between your forebrain and cerebellum.
The pons is essential in sending information to your body, giving you sensory cues and motor information. This means the pons can help you taste, touch, and communicate.
Regulates your breathing. The pneumotaxic center is a bundle of nerve cells in your pons. They play an essential role in regulating your breathing. This bundle of nerves handles how much air you breathe and how often you take another breath. The pons ensures you get enough oxygen whether sitting, walking, or running.
Regulates your sleep and wake cycles. Deep sleep is a component of your sleep and wake cycles regulated by the pons.
Experiencing sensory input. Since the pons helps send information from the right and left parts of your brain, it also affects your sensory input and function. Consequently, injury to the pons can negatively impact your sensory function and movement.
Signs Something Could Be Wrong With Your Pons
The brain stem is a complex structure. Injuries to your brainstem and pons can be challenging to diagnose. Signs of problems with your pons include:
- Severe imbalance
- Double vision
- Slurred speech
- Decreased consciousness
These may be signs of a brain stem stroke. Since your pons plays a part in regulating your sensory, balance, and motor functions, any disruption of these functions can signal a problem in the pons part of your brainstem. If you know you haven't had physical damage to your head or neck, you should seek immediate medical attention. Problems with your speech or balance are a silent signal that you're having a stroke or other brain-related issue.
Severe brain stem strokes can even cause locked-in syndrome. Survivors with this condition are only able to move their eyes.
A physical injury can also cause complications. Quick treatment will help to determine how well one can recover from such a brainstem injury.
What Conditions Affect the Pons?
Conditions that more generally affect your brain commonly affect the pons as well because of its central location in your brain stem. Such conditions may include:
- Pontine myelinolysis
- Birth conditions
- Immune system disorders like multiple sclerosis
- Pontine strokes
- Multiple system atrophy
Other causes of pons damage are easier to diagnose because they're typically accompanied by a physical injury. These injuries can include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
The pons can also become the site of tumors, infarctions, and other disorders.
When a stroke affects your pons, it’s either the result of a large-vessel stroke or small-vessel disease. The strokes can come from vertebral, basilar, and paired posterior cerebral arteries. These arteries make up your posterior circulation.
Posterior circulation problems that affect pons have multiple causes.
In situ thrombosis. This problem occurs from atherosclerosis plaque rupture. This is the most common cause of circulation problems affecting your pons.
Embolism. An embolism is a blocked artery in your cardiac chambers. The thromboembolism can also come from your large arteries closer to your brain's posterior circulation.
Vasculitis. Vasculitis occurs when your blood vessels are inflamed. This condition affects the pons when the arteries that flow to and from your brain are affected by vasculitis.
Hypercoagulability. These types of disorders may be asymptomatic for a long time until they become thrombosis. This thrombosis can be inherited or acquired and can be fatal.
How to Protect Your Pons
Your brain uses a considerable amount of the energy produced by your body. In fact, about 20% of your energy goes to your brain. You may have memory problems, fatigue, and concentration problems without proper energy levels.
Getting enough sleep can help improve your energy levels. On the other hand, too little or too much sleep can harm your overall brain function. Meanwhile, exercising increases blood flow to your brain, making you more alert and boosting your mood.
Keeping your brain healthy will help protect your pons. A healthy lifestyle includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and a good sleep pattern. A healthy lifestyle's benefits include reduced risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, and management of other neurological symptoms.
Another part of keeping your pons protected is managing chronic conditions. Conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes can have a lasting negative impact on your brain. Treating or managing these conditions with help from your doctor can reduce your risk of future brain problems.
If you're recovering from an illness or injury, take it easy as you heal. You may become overly exhausted if you push yourself too hard or fast. This happens because your brain works behind the scenes to help your body heal.
Another significant piece of protecting the pons involves using safety equipment like helmets. Traumatic brain injuries can irreversibly damage your brain, so whether you're riding a bike, skiing, or taking a ride on a motorcycle, you should wear a helmet. They can protect you from severe damage.