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White matter of the brain

White matter is found in the deeper tissues of the brain (subcortical). It contains nerve fibers (axons), which are extensions of nerve cells (neurons). Many of these nerve fibers are surrounded by a type of sheath or covering called myelin. Myelin gives the white matter its color. It also protects the nerve fibers from injury. Also, it improves the speed and transmission of electrical nerve signals along extensions of the nerve cells called axons.

By comparison, gray matter is tissue found on the surface of the brain (cortical). It contains the cell bodies of neurons, which give gray matter its color.

References

Calabresi PA. Multiple sclerosis and demyelinating conditions of the central nervous system. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 411.

Ransom BR, Goldberg MP, Arai K, Baltan S. White matter pathophysiology. In: Grotta JC, Albers GW, Broderick JP, et al, eds. Stroke: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, and Management. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 9.

Wen HT, Rhoton AL, Mussi ACM. Surgical anatomy of the brain. In: Winn HR, ed. Youmans and Winn Neurological Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 2.

  • Brain

    Brain - illustration

    The major areas of the brain have one or more specific functions.

    Brain

    illustration

  • Gray and white matter of the brain

    Gray and white matter of the brain - illustration

    The tissue called "gray matter" in the brain and spinal cord is also known as substantia grisea, and is made up of cell bodies. "White matter", or substantia alba, is composed of nerve fibers.

    Gray and white matter of the brain

    illustration

    • Brain

      Brain - illustration

      The major areas of the brain have one or more specific functions.

      Brain

      illustration

    • Gray and white matter of the brain

      Gray and white matter of the brain - illustration

      The tissue called "gray matter" in the brain and spinal cord is also known as substantia grisea, and is made up of cell bodies. "White matter", or substantia alba, is composed of nerve fibers.

      Gray and white matter of the brain

      illustration


     

    Review Date: 2/28/2019

    Reviewed By: Alireza Minagar, MD, MBA, Professor, Department of Neurology, LSU Health Sciences Center, Shreveport, LA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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