Midbrain, Pons, and Medulla: Anatomy and Syndromes

Radiographics. 2019 Jul-Aug;39(4):1110-1125. doi: 10.1148/rg.2019180126.


The anatomy of the brainstem is complex. It contains numerous cranial nerve nuclei and is traversed by multiple tracts between the brain and spinal cord. Improved MRI resolution now allows the radiologist to identify a higher level of anatomic detail, but an understanding of functional anatomy is crucial for correct interpretation of disease. Brainstem syndromes are most commonly due to occlusion of the posterior circulation or mass effect from intrinsic space-occupying lesions. These syndromes can have subtle imaging findings that may be missed by a radiologist unfamiliar with the anatomy or typical manifesting features. This article presents the developmental anatomy of the brainstem and discusses associated pathologic syndromes. Congenital and acquired syndromes are described and correlated with anatomic locations at imaging, with diagrams to provide a reference to aid in radiologic interpretation. ©RSNA, 2019.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Infarction / diagnostic imaging
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Medulla Oblongata / anatomy & histology
  • Medulla Oblongata / diagnostic imaging*
  • Medulla Oblongata / pathology
  • Mesencephalon / anatomy & histology
  • Mesencephalon / diagnostic imaging*
  • Mesencephalon / pathology
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Pons / anatomy & histology
  • Pons / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pons / pathology
  • Syndrome