Glossary of Neuroanatomy Terms
Amygdaloid. Greek. amygdale = almond, and eidos = resemblance.
The name given to the almond-shaped nucleus.
Astrocyte. Greek. aston = star, and kytos = vessel or cell.
These cells are of a shape to suggest stars.
Autonomic. Greek. auto = self, and nomos = laws.
Hence that part of the nervous system which is self controlled or autonomous.
Axon. Greek. axon = axis
Adpoted for the name of the axis cylinder.
Brachia Latin. brachium = an arm or arm-like process; plural brachia.
Brain. Anglo-Saxon. braegen = brain; or perhaps related to the Greek brechmos
Callosum. Latin. callosus = callous.
Applied to the corpus callosum.
Cerebellum. Latin. diminutive of cerebrum = brain.
Cerebrum. Latin. cerebrum = brain
Cinerea. Latin. cinereus = ashy.
Another term for the gray matter of the nervous system.
Cingulum. Latin. cingulum = a girdle.
Cisterna. Latin. cisterna = a reservoir or cistern.
In addition to its use in the nervous system, this term may
be applied to other girdles of the body such as the shoulder girdle. From
it, by long corruption, comes the word Shingles, which is the lay term for
the creeping eruption, Herpes zoster, which tends to encircle the thorax
like a girdle.
Commissure. Latin. commissura; from con/com = together, and mittere = to
Hence a joining or seam.
Convolution. Latin. con/com = together and volvere = to roll.
Cornu. Latin. cornu = a horn.
Cuneus. Latin. cuneus = a wedge.
Applied especially to horn-shaped structures in the central
nervous system; for example the cornu Ammonis or the horn of Ammon, an Egyptian
name for Jupiter. The same root is also used to indicate anything made of
a horny substance, such as the cornea of the eye.
Dendrite. Greek. dendrites = pertaining to a tree; from dendron = tree,
as in rhododendron.
Decussation. Latin. decussare = to intersect; and decussis
= ten; represented by the symbol X, hence any crossing.
Compare the analogous word chiasm, of Greek derivation. Hippocrates wrote,
"if the wound be situated on the left side, convulsions will seize
the right side of the body," but the observation that the nerve paths
cross had to wait until the sixteenth century.
The term dendrite is used of the processes from a nerve cell.
Diencephalon. Greek. dia/di = through, and encephalon.
Hence the between brain.
Diploe. Greek. diplous = double or folded.
Dura. Latin. durus = hard.
Emissary. Latin. emissarium = a drain; from ex/e = from , and mittein =
Dura is the femine to agree with mater = mother, for the
original term was dura mater, or the strong mother of the brain. This use
of mater in the sense of protector goes back to the Semitic or Arabic fondness
for fanciful metaphors. Dura mater is said to be Stephen of Antioch's translation
of the term employed by Hali Abbas, the Arabian.
Applied as ananatomical term by Santorini in the eighteenth century.
Encephalon. Greek. encephalon = brain; from en = in, and kephale = head.
Ependyma. Greek. epi = upon, and endyma = a garment.
Falx. Latin. falx = a sickle.
Hence an outer garment, but in anatomy applied to the lining
of the spinal canal or outer covering of the spinal cord.
The flax of the brain is crescent-shaped.
Fasciculu. Latin. diminutive of fascis = bundle or packet.
Funiculus. Latin diminutive of funsis = a cord.
Fillet. Latin. filum = a thread; descending through the French
fil and its diminutive, filet = a fine thread, but in English the word means
a ribbon or band.
Ganglion. Greek. ganglion = a swelling.
Used chiefly, but not exclusively in neuroanatomy.
Geniculate. Latin. geniculare = to bend the knee; from geniculum, diminutive
The term originally meant only a subcutaneous swelling, from
which comes our use of the term for cystic swellings on tendons. However,
Galen limited its application to a swelling on a nerve and it is from this
usage that the word ganglion nowadays is most often applied to a group or
knot of nerve cells.
Glia. Greek. glia = glue.
Gyrus. Greek. gyros = a circle.
A contraction used as a synonym for neuroglia.
Hippocampus. Greek. hippos = horse, and kampos= sea monster.
Our modern words gyrate and gyroscope come from this root.
Hypophysis. Greek. hypo = under and physis =growth.
The curved gyrus which bears this name is so called because
its shape suggests that of a well-known sea-horse. The gyrus was well described
by Varolius (1543-1575).
Lemniscus. Greek. lemniskos = a band of fillet.
Hence growing under the brain. This is another name for the pituitary
Lobulus. Latin. diminutive of lobus = lobes.
Medulla. Latin. medulla = marrow.
Meninges. Greek. menix = membrane; plural, meninges.
Used especially of the nervous system, as is also the term
medullated, which indicates that a nerve fiber is sheathed with myelin.
The adjective describing such fibers is medullary. Medulla is also used
of the non-cortical part of some organs, such as the kidney and adrenal.
Mesencephalon. Greek. meso = middle, and encephalon (see above).
The term meninges is reserved for the membranes covering
the brain and spinal cord.
Myelin. Greek. myelos = marrow (compare to medulla, above), and the ending
Neurilemma. Greek. neuron = nerve and lemma = a husk.
Neuroblast. Greek. neuron = nerve and blastos = germ.
In 1838, Schwann discovered this sheath of the axis-cylinder
of nerves, which is sometimes called after him.
Neurodendrite. Greek. neuron = nerve and dendrite (see above).
Neuroglia. Greek. neuron = nerve and glia = glue.
Neuron. Greek. neuron = nerve.
Oblongata. Latin. oblongus = rather long or oblong.
Hippocrates applied the term neuron to tendons, fascial band
andindeed to all whitish structures. Aristotle limited the word to nerves.
It is now in a still more limited sense. Example: aponeuros.
Oligodendroglial. Greek. oligos = scanty, dendron = tree and glia =glue.
Operculum. Latin. operculum = a lid.
This tissue is composed of small round cells with slender,
inconspicuous, branching processes.
A term used in anatomy applied especially to the brain but applicable to
Pallidus. Latin. pallidus = pale.
Parasympathetic. Greek. para = beside, and sympathetic (see below).
A term coined as a name for part of the autonomic nervous system.
Paravertebral. Greek. para = beside, and Latin. vertebra = a joint in the
spine; from vertere = to turn.
The paravertebral ganglia lie alongside the spine.
Pellucidum. Latin. per = through, and lucere = to shine.
Used of the septum pellucidum, through which light can shine.
Pia. Latin. pius =kindly or tender.
Pineal. Latin. pinea = a pine cone.
Pia is the feminine of pius, which is used in this gender
to agree with mater = mother. This term, pia mater, like dura mater, is
a translation of the fanciful metaphorical phrase of Semitic origin. In
the early Arabic texts, such terms as mother and apple were frequent. Here
pia mater means the tender protector of the brain and spinal cord.
Presumably named for the shape of this body.
Pituitary. Lain. pituita = mucous secretion.
Plexus. Latin. plexus = something woven, a braid.
In the time of Galen, the mucus from the nose and mouth was
thought to come from the brain, hence this structure was so named. It has
been suggested that the word spit comes from the same origin. It was long
time before Schneider (1614-1680) demonstrated that nasal mucus (pituita)
cam from the glands in the nose, and did not filter through the cribiform
plate of the ethmoid from the brain.
Pons. Latin. pons = a bridge.
The same root is familiar to us in pontoon.
Posterolateral. Adjective from Latin. posterus = behind, and latus = side.
This is but one of a number of terms compounded with postero-meaning behind.
Precentral. Latin. prae/pre = in front of, and centrum = center.
Pulvinar. Latin. pulvinar = a pillow.
Not a very good name for this part of the thalamus.
Putamen. Latin. putamen = shell (covering) or a paring.
Quadrigemina. Latin. quadric = combining form of quattour = four, and geminus
In this form quadrigemina is used sometimes of four, sometimes of eight.
Radicle. Latin radicula, diminutive root of radix = root.
Rhombencephalon. Greek. rhombus = a rhomb or lozenge, and encephalon (see
Rubrospinal. Latin. rubber = red, and spina = the spine.
Sella turcica. Latin. sella = saddle and turcica = Turkish.
The name given to the tract from the red nucleus down the
cord. Spina originally meant nothing more than a thorn.
Solar plexus. Latin. sol = sun, and plexus = something woven.
A descriptive name for the saddle-shaped prominence on the
sphenoid bone. The pituitary gland sits in this saddle.
In this instance the nerves are supposed to radiate like the rays of the
Splenium. Greek. splenion = bandage.
Spongioblast. Greek. spongia = sponge, and blastos = germ.
Applied to any structure whose shape suggests a bandage.
Unfortunately, splenion also means fern, and perhaps the resemblance is
to a fern or frond.
Spongiocyte. Greek. spongia = sponge, and kytos = vessel or cell.
Stellate. Latin. stella = star.
Hence shaped like a star.
Striatum. Latin. striatus = furrowed.
Subcortical. Latin. sub = under, and cortex = bark or outer covering.
The neuter form, striatum, is applied to the corpus striatum.
The combing form striato- is used in several combinations, for example in
Applied to anything beneath the cortex of the brain.
Substantia. Latin. substantia = material.
Subtemporal. Latin. sub = under, and temporal.
Subtentorial. Latin. sub = under, and tentorium (see below).
Suprasellar. Latin. supra = above, and sella = saddle.
Sympathetic. Greek. syn = with, and pathos = suffering. The "n"
or syn is changed to "m" before a labial consonant.
Applied to anything lying immediately above the sella or
the sphenoid bone. See sella turcica.
Tapetum. Latin. tapetum = tapestry or carpet.
Tectospinal. Latin. tetcum = roof, and spina = a thorn or spine.
So named from a supposed resemblance.
Tectum. Latin. tectum = roof.
Applied to pathways passing from the tectum to the spinal
Tegmentum. Latin. tegmentum = a cover.
Applied to the roof of the midbrain.
Telencephalon. Greek. telos= end, and encephalon (see above).
The upper covering of the cerebral peduncle.
Tentorium. Latin. tentorium = a tent.
Thalamencephalon. Greek. thalamos = an inner chamber, and encephalon.
The name of the fold of dura dividing the cerebellum from
Thalamus. Greek. thalamus = aninner chamber.
Torcular. Latin, torcular = a wine press or storage vat; from torquere =
Used to denote the anterior portion of the brain stem.
Tuber. Latin. tuber = knot or swelling.
Our word torque comes from this root. Torcular is often combined
with the name of Herophilus (335-280 BCE), a physician of Alexandra.
Uncinate. Latin. uncinatus = hook-shaped.
As, for example, the tuber cinereum.
Uncus. Latin. uncus = a hook.
Velum. Latin. velum = veil or covering.
Applied to several hook- shaped structures in the brain.
Adapted from: Pepper, O.H.P. Medical Etymology, Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders
Co., 1949, pp. 45-49.
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This page was last updated 1/31/05