Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Mad Cow Disease Anatomy

To better understand variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, it helps to understand the anatomy of the brain.

The brain is well protected by:

  • The scalp
  • The skull
  • The dura
    • A tough 3-layer sheath that surrounds the brain and spinal cord
    • Layers include the dura mater (strongest layer), arachnoid mater (middle layer), and pia mater (closest to the brain)

The brain is a complicated structure containing many parts. These include:
  • The cerebrum:
    • Made up of two cerebral hemispheres that are connected in the middle
    • It is the largest part of the brain
    • Each area of the cerebrum performs an important function, such as language or movement
    • Higher thought (cognition) comes from the frontal cortex (front portion of the cerebrum)
    • Outside of the cerebrum are blood vessels
    • There are fluid-filled cavities and channels inside the brain
  • The cerebellum:
    • Located in the lower, back part of the skull
    • Controls movement and coordination
  • The brainstem and pituitary gland:
    • Responsible for involuntary functions such as breathing, body temperature, and blood pressure regulation
    • Pituitary gland is the "master gland" that controls other endocrine glands in the body, such as the thyroid and adrenal glands
  • The cranial nerves:
    • Twelve large nerves exit the bottom of the brain to supply function to the senses such as hearing, vision, and taste
  • The cerebral blood vessels:
    • A complicated system that supplies oxygenated blood and nutrients to the brain

The blood supply to the brain is divided into two main parts:
  • Anterior cerebral circulation:
    • The front of the brain is supplied by the paired carotid arteries in the neck.
  • Posterior cerebral circulation:
    • The back portion of the brain is supplied by the paired vertebral arteries in the spine.

Anatomy examples:
  • Carotid artery branches shown on arteriogram
  • Cerebral arteries viewed in cross-section through middle of brain
  • Cerebral arteries viewed from bottom of brain
  • Cerebral arteries on enhanced CT scan
  • Cerebral arteries on arteriogram

Last Updated: Jan 10, 2011 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Mad Cow Disease References
  1. Beisel CE, Morens DM: Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and the acquired and transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Clin Infect Dis 2004 Mar 1; 38(5): 697-704. [14986255]
  2. Brown P: The risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy ('mad cow disease') to human health. JAMA 1997 Sep 24; 278(12): 1008-11. [9307349]
  3. Collinge J: Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Lancet 1999 Jul 24; 354(9175): 317-23. [10440324]
  4. Roma AA, Prayson RA. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: how safe is eating beef? Cleve Clin J Med. 2005 Mar;72(3):185-6, 189-90, 192-4. [15825799]
  5. Weihl CC, Roos RP. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, new variant creutzfeldt-jakob disease, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Neurol Clin. 1999 Nov;17(4):835-59. [10517931]
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