Grey matter

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Grey matter
Spinal nerve.svg
The formation of the spinal nerve from the dorsal and ventral roots (with grey matter labelled at centre right).
Grey matter and white matter - very high mag.jpg
Micrograph showing grey matter, with the characteristic neuronal cell bodies (dark shade of pink), and white matter with its characteristic fine meshwork-like appearance (left of image; lighter shade of pink). HPS stain.
Latin Substantia grisea
MeSH D066128
TA A14.1.00.002
FMA 67242
Anatomical terminology

Grey matter (or gray matter) is a major component of the central nervous system, consisting of neuronal cell bodies, neuropil (dendrites and unmyelinated axons), glial cells (astrocytes and oligodendrocytes), synapses, and capillaries. Grey matter is distinguished from white matter in that it contains numerous cell bodies and relatively few myelinated axons, while white matter contains relatively few cell bodies and is composed chiefly of long-range myelinated axons. [1] The colour difference arises mainly from the whiteness of myelin. In living tissue, grey matter actually has a very light grey colour with yellowish or pinkish hues, which come from capillary blood vessels and neuronal cell bodies. [2]



Grey matter refers to unmyelinated neurons and other cells of the central nervous system. It is present in the brain, brainstem and cerebellum, and present throughout the spinal cord.

Grey matter is distributed at the surface of the cerebral hemispheres (cerebral cortex) and of the cerebellum (cerebellar cortex), as well as in the depths of the cerebrum (thalamus; hypothalamus; subthalamus, basal gangliaputamen, globus pallidus, nucleus accumbens; septal nuclei), cerebellar (deep cerebellar nuclei – dentate nucleus, globose nucleus, emboliform nucleus, fastigial nucleus), brainstem (substantia nigra, red nucleus, olivary nuclei, cranial nerve nuclei).

Grey matter in the spinal cord is known as the grey column which travels down the spinal cord distributed in three grey columns that are presented in an "H" shape. The forward-facing column is the anterior grey column, the rear-facing one is the posterior grey column and the interlinking one is the lateral grey column. The grey matter on the left and right side is connected by the grey commissure. The grey matter in the spinal cord consists of interneurons, as well as the cell bodies of projection neurons.

Grey matter undergoes development and growth throughout childhood and adolescence. [3] Recent studies using cross-sectional neuroimaging have shown that by around the age of 8 the volume of grey matter begins to decrease. [4] However, the density of grey matter appears to increase as a child develops into early adulthood. [4] Males tend to exhibit grey matter of increased volume but lower density than that of females. [5]


Grey matter contains most of the brain's neuronal cell bodies. [6] The grey matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control.

The grey matter in the spinal cord is split into three grey columns:

The grey matter of the spinal cord can be divided into different layers, called Rexed laminae. These describe, in general, the purpose of the cells within the grey matter of the spinal cord at a particular location.

Clinical significance

High alcohol consumption has been correlated with significant reductions in grey matter volume. [7] [8] Short-term cannabis use (30 days) is not correlated with changes in white or grey matter. [9] However, several cross-sectional studies have shown that repeated long-term cannabis use is associated with smaller grey matter volumes in the hippocampus, amygdala, medial temporal cortex, and prefrontal cortex, with increased grey matter volume in the cerebellum. [10] [11] [12] Long-term cannabis use is also associated with alterations in white matter integrity in an age-dependent manner, [13] with heavy cannabis use during adolescence and early adulthood associated with the greatest amount of change. [14]

Meditation has been shown to change grey matter structure. [15] [16] [17] [18] [19]

Habitual playing of action video games has been reported to promote a reduction of grey matter in the hippocampus while 3D platformer games have been reported to increase grey matter in the hippocampus. [20] [21] [22]

Women and men with equivalent IQ scores have differing proportions of grey to white matter in cortical brain regions associated with intelligence. [23]

Pregnancy renders substantial changes in brain structure, primarily reductions in grey matter volume in regions subserving social cognition. The grey matter reductions endured for at least 2 years post-pregnancy. [24] The profile of brain changes is comparable to that taking place during adolescence, another hormonally similar transitional period of life. [25]



In the current edition [26] of the official Latin nomenclature, Terminologia Anatomica , substantia grisea is used for English grey matter. The adjective grisea for grey is however not attested in classical Latin. [27] The adjective grisea is derived from the French word for grey, gris. [27] Alternative designations like substantia cana [28] and substantia cinerea [29] are being used alternatively. The adjective cana, attested in classical Latin, [30] can mean grey, [27] or greyish white. [31] The classical Latin cinerea means ash-coloured. [30]

Additional images

See also

Related Research Articles

Nociception is the sensory nervous system's response to certain harmful or potentially harmful stimuli. In nociception, intense chemical, mechanical, or thermal stimulation of sensory nerve cells called nociceptors produces a signal that travels along a chain of nerve fibers via the spinal cord to the brain. Nociception triggers a variety of physiological and behavioral responses and usually results in a subjective experience, or perception, of pain in sentient beings.

White matter Areas of myelinated axons in the brain

White matter refers to areas of the central nervous system (CNS) that are mainly made up of myelinated axons, also called tracts. Long thought to be passive tissue, white matter affects learning and brain functions, modulating the distribution of action potentials, acting as a relay and coordinating communication between different brain regions.

Human brain Central organ of the human nervous system

The human brain is the central organ of the human nervous system, and with the spinal cord makes up the central nervous system. The brain consists of the cerebrum, the brainstem and the cerebellum. It controls most of the activities of the body, processing, integrating, and coordinating the information it receives from the sense organs, and making decisions as to the instructions sent to the rest of the body. The brain is contained in, and protected by, the skull bones of the head.

Neural pathway Connection formed between neurons to transfer signals throughout the nervous system

A neural pathway is the connection formed by axons that project from neurons to make synapses onto neurons in another location, to enable a signal to be sent from one region of the nervous system to another. Neurons are connected by a single axon, or by a bundle of axons known as a nerve tract, or fasciculus. Shorter neural pathways are found within grey matter in the brain, whereas longer projections, made up of myelinated axons, constitute white matter.

Grey column mass of grey matter in the spinal cord

The grey column refers to a somewhat ridge-shaped mass of grey matter in the spinal cord. This presents as three columns: the anterior grey column, the posterior grey column, and the lateral grey column, all of which are visible in cross-section of the spinal cord.

Nociceptor sensory neuron that responds to damaging or potentially damaging stimuli

A nociceptor is a sensory neuron that responds to damaging or potentially damaging stimuli by sending “possible threat” signals to the spinal cord and the brain. If the brain perceives the threat as credible, it creates the sensation of pain to direct attention to the body part, so the threat can hopefully be mitigated; this process is called nociception.

Pyramidal tracts include both the corticobulbar tract and the corticospinal tract

The pyramidal tracts include both the corticobulbar tract and the corticospinal tract. These are aggregations of efferent nerve fibers from the upper motor neurons that travel from the cerebral cortex and terminate either in the brainstem (corticobulbar) or spinal cord (corticospinal) and are involved in the control of motor functions of the body.

Spinothalamic tract Sensory pathway from the skin to the thalamus

The spinothalamic tract is a sensory pathway to the thalamus. From the ventral posterolateral nucleus in the thalamus, sensory information is relayed upward to the somatosensory cortex of the postcentral gyrus.

Dorsal column–medial lemniscus pathway sensory spinal pathway

The dorsal column–medial lemniscus pathway (DCML) is a sensory pathway of the central nervous system that conveys sensations of fine touch, vibration, two-point discrimination, and proprioception (position) from the skin and joints. It transmits information from the body to the primary somatosensory cortex in the postcentral gyrus of the parietal lobe of the brain. The pathway receives information from sensory receptors throughout the body, and carries this in nerve tracts in the white matter of the dorsal columns of the spinal cord to the medulla, where it is continued in the medial lemniscus, on to the thalamus and relayed from there through the internal capsule and transmitted to the somatosensory cortex. The name dorsal-column medial lemniscus comes from the two structures that carry the sensory information: the dorsal columns of the spinal cord, and the medial lemniscus in the brainstem.

Nigrostriatal pathway bilateral dopaminergic pathway in the brain that connects the substantia nigra pars compacta in the midbrain with the dorsal striatum in the forebrain

The nigrostriatal pathway is a bilateral dopaminergic pathway in the brain that connects the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) in the midbrain with the dorsal striatum in the forebrain. It is one of the four major dopamine pathways in the brain, and is critical in the production of movement as part of a system called the basal ganglia motor loop. Dopaminergic neurons of this pathway release dopamine from axon terminals that synapse onto GABAergic medium spiny neurons (MSNs), also known as spiny projection neurons (SPNs), located in the striatum.

Periaqueductal gray Nucleus surrounding the cerebral aqueduct

The periaqueductal gray is a nucleus that plays a critical role in autonomic function, motivated behavior and behavioural responses to threatening stimuli. PAG is also the primary control center for descending pain modulation. It has enkephalin-producing cells that suppress pain.

The pedunculopontine nucleus or pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus is a collection of neurons located in the upper pons in the brainstem. It lies caudal to the substantia nigra and adjacent to the superior cerebellar peduncle. It has two divisions of subnuclei; the pars compacta containing mainly cholinergic neurons, and the pars dissipata containing mainly glutamatergic neurons and some non-cholinergic neurons. The pedunculopontine nucleus is one of the main components of the reticular activating system. It was first described in 1909 by Louis Jacobsohn-Lask, a German neuroanatomist.

Spinocerebellar tract set of axonal fibers originating in the spinal cord and terminating in the ipsilateral cerebellum

The spinocerebellar tract is a nerve tract originating in the spinal cord and terminating in the same side (ipsilateral) of the cerebellum.

Substantia gelatinosa of Rolando

The apex of the posterior grey column, one of the three grey columns of the spinal cord, is capped by a V-shaped or crescentic mass of translucent, gelatinous neuroglia, termed the substantia gelatinosa of Rolando, which contains both neuroglia cells, and small nerve cells. The gelatinous appearance is due to a very low concentration of myelinated fibers. It extends the entire length of the spinal cord and into the medulla oblongata where it becomes the spinal nucleus of the trigeminal nerve.

Lateral grey column

The lateral grey column is one of the three grey columns of the spinal cord ; the others being the anterior and posterior grey columns. The lateral grey column is primarily involved with activity in the sympathetic division of the autonomic motor system. It projects to the side as a triangular field in the thoracic and upper lumbar regions of the postero-lateral part of the anterior grey column.

Posterolateral tract

The posterolateral tract is a small strand situated in relation to the tip of the posterior column close to the entrance of the posterior nerve roots. It is present throughout the spinal cord, and is most developed in the upper cervical regions.

A topographic map is the ordered projection of a sensory surface, like the retina or the skin, or an effector system, like the musculature, to one or more structures of the central nervous system. Topographic maps can be found in all sensory systems and in many motor systems.

The development of the nervous system in humans, or neural development or neurodevelopment involves the studies of embryology, developmental biology, and neuroscience to describe the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which the complex nervous system forms in humans, develops during prenatal development, and continues to develop postnatally.

Spinal cord Long, tubular central nervous system structure in the vertebral column

The spinal cord is a long, thin, tubular structure made up of nervous tissue, which extends from the medulla oblongata in the brainstem to the lumbar region of the vertebral column. It encloses the central canal of the spinal cord, which contains cerebrospinal fluid. The brain and spinal cord together make up the central nervous system (CNS). In humans, the spinal cord begins at the occipital bone, passing through the foramen magnum and entering the spinal canal at the beginning of the cervical vertebrae. The spinal cord extends down to between the first and second lumbar vertebrae, where it ends. The enclosing bony vertebral column protects the relatively shorter spinal cord. It is around 45 cm (18 in) in men and around 43 cm (17 in) long in women. The diameter of the spinal cord ranges from 13 mm in the cervical and lumbar regions to 6.4 mm in the thoracic area.

An axo-axonic synapse is a type of synapse, formed by one neuron projecting its axon terminals onto another neuron’s axon.


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