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What is the Central Canal?

By Angela Wagley
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The central canal is a small canal that runs through the center of the spinal cord and is filled with cerebrospinal fluid. It represents the remainder of the neural canal in adults. The neural tube develops to become the brain stem and, expands dorsally and laterally to create the fourth ventricle. Generally, the unchanged neural canal in the spinal cord forms the central canal. It is an anatomic extension of the ventricles and is also referred to as the spinal foramen.

A spinal cord is about 18 inches (about 45 cm) long and connects the peripheral nerves to the brain. It is the major nerve tract of the body. The central nervous system is compromised of the brain and spinal cord — the central canal is at the very center of the spinal cord.

This canal runs from the conus medullaris in the lumbar spine to the end of the fourth ventricle, and is attached to the ventricle by the opex. Generally, the outermost part of the canal is the gray commissure, which is a thin strip of gray matter that surrounds the central canal of the spinal cord. The gray commissure, along with the anterior white commissure, connects the two parts of the cord. Ependymal cells that make the cerebrospinal fluid, the cilia, and the interior lumen can be found inside the gray commissure.

Typically, the central canal is prone to certain types of diseases and conditions that become more common as people age. Syringomyelia is a condition in which the central area of the spinal cord expands. This typically leads to damage of the white matter fibers in the anterior white commissure and causes pain and loss of sensation. Treatment involves surgical drainage to improve the symptoms of radicular pain and sensory disturbances.

Another common condition is central canal stenosis. The canal narrows over time and compresses the nerves resulting in claudication and radicular pain in the legs. Lumbar epidural steroid injections often provide short-term relief of the symptoms of condition. More severe cases can require decompression or fusion surgeries to relieve the painful symptoms.

Neuroanatomy is the branch of neuroscience that studies the central and peripheral nervous systems. The central canal is part of the central nervous system. Study of the anatomy of the nervous tissues and neural structures, and more specifically the distinct regions of the brain, provides a better idea of how the brain functions and how that affects other behaviors.

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Discussion Comments

By anon335728 — On May 23, 2013

My husband has just been diagnosed with a tumor between T9 and T10 that is blocking the central neural canal. Can you explain this to us?

By anon294817 — On Oct 03, 2012

What is the function of the central canal?

By Esther11 — On Jun 28, 2011

That spinal cord and the fluid inside, being as important as it is, in working so closely with the brain, must be heavily protected from injury. I'm not sure just how this is done. It seems that the brain can't work properly without the central nervous system which begins in the spinal cord.

When a spinal injury happens, like in a car accident, or a diving accident, the victim can be left paralyzed. This is very sad, especially when it happens to a young person.

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