Last update: November 16, 2022
By BrainMatters

Many different terms are used to describe the brain. Some of these terms speak for themselves, and are not difficult to interpret. Other terms need a little more explanation, and so here is an overview of the most important terms, and what they mean.

To begin with, the brain is divided into several planes.

  1. The horizontal plane divides the brain into a top and bottom half.
  2. The sagittal plane divides the brain into a left and right side.
  3. The coronal, or frontal, plane divides the brain into a front and back.

In addition, several terms are used to name the relative positions of different parts of the brain:

Anterior - in front of another part

Posterior - behind another part

Superior - above another part

Inferior - below another part

Lateral - further away from the center

Medial - more towards the center

Median - lying on the centre line

Proximal - near

Distal - far away from

Ipsilateral - on the same side of the brain

Contralateral - on the opposite side of the brain

There are still two important terms that remain when it comes to describing the brain. These concepts have ambiguous meanings, and therefore deserve some additional explanation. These are: ‘dorsal’ and ‘ventral’. These terms come from Latin, and mean "at the back" and "at the belly" respectively. In animals that walk on four legs, this is equivalent to 'the top of the body/head' and 'the bottom of the body/head', since the brain runs in a straight line looking from the spinal cord. In humans, however, the brain is tilted 90 degrees, and so here dorsal and ventral in the brain means something different than in the rest of the body.


In the body: at the front

In the brain: at the bottom


In the body: at the back

In the brain: at the top

In addition to the general concepts mentioned above, anatomically the brain can also be divided into 52 different pieces. This division was made by a German neurologist named Korbinian Brodmann, and was based on differences in structure between the 52 areas. His division is still used to name the different parts of the brain. The different pieces are then designated by the characters BA (brodmann area) followed by a number.

Finally, the terms 'gyrus' (plural 'gyri') and 'sulcus' (plural 'sulci') are often used when naming anatomy. The 'coils' on the brain are the gyri, while the grooves between these coils are called sulci.

Author: Myrthe Princen (translated by Thomas von Rein)

Image: Marcel Loeffen

Do you want to know more content-wise about the anatomy of the brain? Check the Brain Basics articles here

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