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What is the Caudate Nucleus?

By Alex Terris
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The caudate nucleus plays an important role in the brain of many animals including humans. It is essential for abilities such as memory and learning, although it is also active whenever a person is getting information from his or her senses. Nucleus is the name given to parts of the brain containing a higher density of neurons than other locations. This structure plays a role in a person's ability to understand language and a risk of developing obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

The exact location of the caudate is within the basal nuclei region of the brain. This is toward the front of the brain and controls many different functions, such as muscle movement and learning. Due to its many functions, the basal nuclei region is associated with a number of different brain diseases and disorders such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Early on, scientists thought the caudate nucleus was used to control movement of the limbs. Specifically, scientists believed it controlled movement that the person was aware of and performed consciously, rather than unconscious or reactive movement. While this may be the case, there are now a number of other functions that are thought to be related to this part of the brain, including memory and learning. It is thought that feedback processing that allows the brain to understand what is going on around the body is a major function of this region.

Understanding languages is another ability that can be traced to the caudate nucleus. Although there are other parts of the brain that are responsible for learning a new language, the caudate region allows humans to switch between different languages while still being able to understand meaning. The thalamus is another part of the brain that provides a similar function, and the two work together in order to achieve this ability.

One potential problem that this nucleus may be involved with is OCD, a condition where a person becomes unduly worried about certain events or situations and finds it difficult to find a solution. For example, people with OCD often feel that they have to be cleaner or more organized than other people. Other regions that are thought to cause or affect this condition include the orbito frontal cortex and the thalamus.

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Discussion Comments

By epiphany5 — On Jun 26, 2011

@drhs07 - I am glad you brought up the episode of 60 minutes. I think it aired again last Sunday.

I am a biology student, so I was very interested in the episode, and the topic in general. I just thought that I would add to this discussion by shedding some more light on the memory ability brought up in the episode.

The condition that the study subjects had is called hyperthymesia. In layman's terms, it is known as superior autobiographical memory. James McGaugh is the one of the main researchers at UC Irvine, and he has confirmed twenty cases of hyperthymesia.

I can ramble on and on about Dr. McGaugh's research, as it is quite fascinating. But it is amazing how some people are born with the most extraordinary abilities of their minds.

To the author: thanks for writing a great article. I will be using it to study for my next neurology exam!

By drhs07 — On Jun 23, 2011

@YogurtPark – Thank you for bring up this topic! I have always wondered the same thing, and an episode of 60 minutes that I saw last week covered the subject of people with exceptional memories.

A neurologist from the University of California in Irvine was doing a study on people who could remember every single day of their lives. Not only could his human subjects remember specific events, but even what the exact date was and the day of the week it fell on. It was extraordinary to see them talk about things that happened in their childhoods as if they happened earlier that day.

The neurologist scanned their brains to see if he could discover why they had their abilities. Sure enough their caudate nucleus was a little bit bigger than the size of the average person’s.

So, to answer your question, it is possible that your sister’s memory ability comes from an enlarged caudate nucleus. This is not the only explanation for her photographic memory, but it can shed some light on the situation.

Hope that helps you out!

By YogurtPark — On Jun 22, 2011

This article was great! Thank you for writing it.

This question may seem silly, but I always wanted to know the answer to it. If a person has a photographic memory, or some other exceptional memory ability, is it because their caudate nucleus is bigger than the average person's?

My sister has a photographic memory, and I keep telling her to get her brain scanned because I am curious as to why she was blessed with this amazing ability. My memory is pretty average and I have always been a little jealous of her.

I hope someone out there has the answer!

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