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Ventricular system

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Ventricular system

Cerebral ventricles
The ventricular system accounts for the production and circulation of cerebrospinal fluid.
Rotating 3D rendering of the four ventricles and connections. From top to bottom:
Blue - Lateral ventricles
Cyan - Interventricular foramina (Monro)
Yellow - Third ventricle
Red - Cerebral aqueduct (Sylvius)
Purple - fourth ventricle
Green - continuous with the central canal

(Apertures to subarachnoid space are not visible)
Latin Ventriculi cerebri
MeSH A08.186.211.276
NeuroNames ancil-192
Anatomical terms of neuroanatomy

The ventricular system is a set of four interconnected cavities (ventricles) in the brain, where the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is produced. Within each ventricle is a region of choroid plexus, a network of ependymal cells involved in the production of CSF. The ventricular system is continuous with the central canal of the spinal cord (from the third ventricle) allowing for the flow of CSF to circulate. All of the ventricular system and the central canal of the spinal cord is lined with ependyma a specialised form of epithelium.


Rotating 3D rendering of the four ventricles.

The system comprises four ventricles:

There are several foramina, openings acting as channels, that connect the ventricles. The interventricular foramina (also called the foramina of Monro) connect the lateral ventricles to the third ventricle through which the cerebrospinal fluid can flow.

Name From To
interventricular foramina (Monro) lateral ventricles third ventricle
cerebral aqueduct (Sylvius) third ventricle fourth ventricle
median aperture (Magendie) fourth ventricle subarachnoid space via the cisterna magna
right and left lateral aperture (Luschka) fourth ventricle subarachnoid space via the cistern of great cerebral vein


3D rendering of ventricles (lateral and anterior views).

The four cavities of the human brain are called ventricles.[1] The two largest are the lateral ventricles in the cerebrum; the third ventricle is in the diencephalon of the forebrain between the right and left thalamus; and the fourth ventricle is located at the back of the pons and upper half of the medulla oblongata of the hindbrain. The ventricles are concerned with the production and circulation of cerebrospinal fluid[2]


The structures of the ventricular system are embryologically derived from the neural canal, the centre of the neural tube.

As the part of the primitive neural tube that will develop into the brainstem, the neural canal expands dorsally and laterally, creating the fourth ventricle, whereas the neural canal that does not expand and remains the same at the level of the midbrain superior to the fourth ventricle forms the cerebral aqueduct. The fourth ventricle narrows at the obex (in the caudal medulla), to become the central canal of the spinal cord.

In more detail, around the third week of development, the embryo is a three-layered disc. The embryo is covered on the dorsal surface by a layer of cells called endoderm. In the middle of the dorsal surface of the embryo is a linear structure called the notochord. As the endoderm proliferates, the notochord is dragged into the middle of the developing embryo. The notochord becomes a canal within the embryo known as the neural canal.[3]

As the brain develops, by the fourth week of embryological development several swellings have formed within the embryo around the canal, near where the head will develop. These swellings represent different components of the central nervous system, and are three in number: the prosencephalon, mesencephalon and rhombencephalon. These in turn divide into five sections. As these sections develop around the neural canal, the inner neural canal becomes known as primitive ventricles. These form the ventricular system of the brain:[3]


Flow of cerebrospinal fluid

MRI showing flow of CSF
The cerebrospinal fluid passes out through arachnoid villi into the venous sinuses of the skull.
A schematic illustration of the venous sinuses surrounding the brain.

The ventricles are filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) which bathes and cushions the brain and spinal cord within their bony confines. CSF is produced by modified ependymal cells of the choroid plexus found in all components of the ventricular system except for the cerebral aqueduct and the posterior and anterior horns of the lateral ventricles. CSF flows from the lateral ventricles via the foramina of Monro into the third ventricle, and then the fourth ventricle via the cerebral aqueduct in the brainstem. From there it can pass into the central canal of the spinal cord or into the cisterns of the subarachnoid space via three small foramina: the central foramen of Magendie and the two lateral foramina of Luschka.

The fluid then flows around the superior sagittal sinus to be reabsorbed via the arachnoid villi (or granulation villi) into the venous sinuses, after which it passes through the jugular vein and major venous system. CSF within the spinal cord can flow all the way down to the lumbar cistern at the end of the cord around the cauda equina where lumbar punctures are performed.

The cerebral aqueduct between the third and fourth ventricles is very small, as are the foramina, which means that they can be easily blocked.

Protection of the brain

The brain and spinal cord are covered by the meninges, the three protective membranes of the tough dura mater, the arachnoid mater and the pia mater. The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the skull and spine provides further protection and also buoyancy, and is found between the pia mater and the arachnoid mater.

The CSF that is produced in the ventricular system is also necessary for chemical stability, and the provision of nutrients needed by the brain. The CSF helps to protect the brain from jolts and knocks to the head and also provides buoyancy and support to the brain against gravity. (Since the brain and CSF are similar in density, the brain floats in neutral buoyancy, suspended in the CSF.) This allows the brain to grow in size and weight without resting on the floor of the cranium, which would destroy nervous tissue.[4][5]

Clinical significance

The narrowness of the cerebral aqueduct and foramina means that they can become easily blocked. This causes high pressure in the lateral ventricles which is a common cause of hydrocephalus (known colloquially as "water on the brain") an extremely serious condition regardless of the type of blockage.

Other diseases of the ventricular system include inflammation of the membranes (meningitis) or of the ventricles (ventriculitis) caused by infection or the introduction of blood following trauma or haemorrhage (cerebral haemorrhage or subarachnoid haemorrhage).

The dementia and have been explained largely in terms of environmental factors.[6] They have also been found to be extremely diverse between individuals, such that the percentage difference in group averages in schizophrenia studies (+16%) has been described as "not a very profound difference in the context of normal variation" (ranging from 25% to 350% of the mean average).[7]Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has superseded the use of CT in research in the role of detecting ventricular abnormalities in psychiatric illness.

Additional images

See also

This article uses anatomical terminology; for an overview, see anatomical terminology.


  1. ^  
  2. ^ International school of medicine and applied sciences kisumu library
  3. ^ a b and others (2009). Larsen's human embryology (4th ed., Thoroughly rev. and updated. ed.). Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier. pp. "Development of the Brain and Cranial Nerves".  
  4. ^ Klein, S.B., & Thorne, B.M. Biological Psychology. Worth Publishers: New York. 2007.
  5. ^ Saladin, Kenneth S. Anatomy & Physiology. The Unit of Form and Function. 5th Edition. McGraw-Hill: New York. 2007
  6. ^ Peper, Jiska S.; Brouwer, RM; Boomsma, DI; Kahn, RS; Hulshoff Pol, HE (2007). "Genetic influences on human brain structure: A review of brain imaging studies in twins". Human Brain Mapping 28 (6): 464–73.  
  7. ^ Allen JS, Damasio H, Grabowski TJ; Damasio; Grabowski (August 2002). "Normal neuroanatomical variation in the human brain: an MRI-volumetric study". American Journal of Physical Anthropology 118 (4): 341–58.  

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