Variability of the medullary arcuate nucleus in humans

Beatrice Paradiso, Stefano Ferrero, Gaetano Thiene, Anna Maria Lavezzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: The arcuate nucleus is a component of the ventral medullary surface involved in chemoreception and breathing control. The hypoplasia of this nucleus is a very frequent finding in victims of sudden unexplained fetal and infant death (from the last weeks of pregnancy to the first year of life). On the contrary, this developmental alteration is rarely present in age-matched controls who died of defined causes. These observations lead to hypothesize that a well-developed and functional arcuate nucleus is generally required to sustain life. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the arcuate nucleus maintains the same supposed function throughout life. Methods: We carried out neuropathological examinations of brainstems obtained from 25 adult subjects, 18 males and 7 females, aged between 34 and 89 years, who died from various causes. Results: For almost half of the cases (44%) microscopic examinations of serial histological sections of medulla oblongata showed a normal cytoarchitecture of the arcuate nucleus, extending along the pyramids. For the remaining 56% of cases, various degrees of hypodevelopment of this nucleus were observed, validated through the application of quantitative morphometric investigations, from decreased area, neuron number and volume, to full aplasia. Conclusions: These unexpected findings indicate that the involvement of the arcuate nucleus in chemoreception in adulthood is questionable, given the possibility of living until late age without this nucleus. This opens new perspectives for researchers on the role and function of the arcuate nucleus in humans from birth to old age.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01133
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • adulthood
  • aplasia
  • arcuate nucleus
  • chemoreception
  • human brainstem
  • hypoplasia
  • medulla oblongata

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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