The reticular formation is a comprehensive network of nerves found in the central area of the brainstem. It's involved in many of the essential functions of the body, such as the ability to obtain recuperative sleep, sexual arousal, and the ability to focus on tasks without being easily distracted. All in all, this network is believed by some researchers to be involved with at least 25 behaviors and functions that are considered essential for human health.
Situated between the top of the brain stem and the bottom area of the mid-brain, the reticular formation is found close to the fourth ventricle and the cerebral aqueduct. One of the more important tasks of the formation is regulating the functions of the autonomic nervous system. This means that it is directly involved with what are commonly referred to as unconscious functions. It helps to automatically regulate the heartbeat, breathing, and the process of digesting food in the gastrointestinal tract. As such, the network is also key to the process of elimination and helps to regulate the processes of urination and defecation.
The development of lesions in the brain stem and the paramedian reticular formation can have a drastic impact on the way the formation regulates various systems throughout the body. Since it is involved in maintaining consciousness, damage to the brain stem and the midbrain are likely to inhibit its ability to control wakefulness as well as sleep patterns. This can lead to situations where the individual loses consciousness altogether, sinking into a comatose state. Lesions may also affect the ability to concentrate, as well as negatively impact sexual arousal, sleep patterns, and cause a constant feeling of fatigue. In the most severe of cases, damage to this area and the brain stem can lead to death.
At present, medical professionals have little ability to effectively repair damage to the reticular formation. While a few surgical procedures exist, there is a high chance for failure and, in some cases, the procedures are not able to accomplish much more than a partial recovery. There are those who claim to have suffered damage to the area and later recovered on their own, but these reports remain anecdotal and are not widely accepted by the medical community.