What is the limbic system? How do things go wrong? The limbic system describes several brain components that sit below the cerebrum. Scientists call this system ‘paleomammalian cortex’ to indicate that it serves as a collection of structures. This contributes to emotion, behavior, olfactory input, and memory recall.

The Components of Limbic System

The Components of Limbic System with specific medical names

Image: CC by A-SA 3.0, BruceBlaus, via Wikipedia Commons

The following nervous system biological components constitute the limbic system:

Olfactory Bulb

The olfactory bulb serves as the brain’s primary processing center for the sense of smell, also known as olfaction. It sends this information to the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex for further processing. So, this makes a great use as memory, learning, and emotion.


The hippocampus resembles a seahorse, hence its Greek origin of ἱππόκαμπος. This brain component consolidates information from an individual’s memory. Accordingly, it helps to aid in navigation via spatial memory.


The hypothalamus serves as the link between the endocrine system and the nervous system via the pituitary gland. And, also known as the hypophysis. It regulates metabolic processes and secretes specific types of hormones. Plus, this aid the body in the regulation of temperature, hunger, and thirst, as well as sleep.


The amygdala, two groups of nuclei, sit within the temporal lobe. It helps the central nervous system to process memory. Also, it makes decisions and mediates emotional responses to external stimuli.

Anterior Thalamic Nuclei

The anterior thalamic nuclei comprise a group of nuclei that provide signal processing. This play a role in learning and memory. They also help to mediate head movements.


The bundle of nerve fibers located in the brain known as the fornix lack a clear function at the time of writing, but scientists speculate that they may play a role in two types of memory: recall and recognition.

Columns of Fornix

The columns of the fornix comprise a crucial structure within the fornix system. Subsequently, it contains important biological components to support the fornix.

Diagram of the Limbic System Lobe with its remaining parts

Image: CC by 3.0, OpenStax College, via Wikipedia Commons

Mammillary Body

The mammillary bodies play a role in recollective memory. Damage to this brain structure leads to problems with memory, particularly with recollective and spatial memory.

Septum Pellucidum

The English translation of “septum pellucidum” remains as “translucent hedge.” This brain structure plays a role in the prevention of health problems like septo-optic dysplasia. However, children born without a septum pellucidum usually develop normally. This happens assuming they possess no other physiological handicap

Habenular Commissure

The habenular commissure sits in front of the pineal gland. It provides a framework for processing stimuli.

Cingulate Gyrus

The cingulate cortex plays an important role in the formations and the processing of emotions. The cingulate cortex also plays an important role in the development and treatment of depression and schizophrenia.

Parahippocampal Gyrus

The parahippocampal gyrus plays a role in memory encoding and retrieval. Furthermore, for the development of schizophrenia in cases of asymmetrical gyrus.

Entorhinal cortex

The entorhinal cortex takes its name from the three components of ento. This means interior, rhino, which means nose, and entorhinal, which means interior to the rhinal sulcus. It plays a role in memory formation and optimization processes that occur while someone is sleeping.

Midbrain Areas

The midbrain areas, also known as the mesencephalon, involve several critical neurological systems. These systems play a role in motor control, vision, hearing, the sleep cycle, alertness, and body temperature regulation. This gets also known as homeostasis.

The What/Where/How/Why of Your Body’s Limbic System

Emergency Medical Team paediatric nurse as she checks a girl for symptoms of Limbic System Issues

Image: CC by 2.0, Russell Watkins/Department for International Development, via Flickr

You now beget a firm understanding of the various biological systems that make up the limbic system. Next, you then want to understand in greater detail how all the dots connect.

Overall, the limbic system touches on many psychological features. This includes emotional dysfunction, impulsive behaviors, and basic motor systems necessary for survival. Therefore, any malfunctions in the limbic system or developmental disorders play a key role in the development of mental illness. Also, for life-threatening illnesses that ultimately result in tragedy.


Some of the most clinically significant pathologies that can result from problems with the limbic system include:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease: Damage to the limbic system can result in Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease that slowly erodes the brain and can eventually result in death.
  • Anterograde Amnesia: This type of amnesia makes it impossible for the afflicted person to create new memories after an event that caused the amnesia in the first place. Memories prior to the event remain in place, however.
  • Retrograde Amnesia: Retrograde amnesia, on the other hand, makes it difficult or impossible to remember events prior to the amnesia episode. Subjects possess greater ability to remember events closer to the incident than those long before.
  • Klüver-Bucy Syndrome: Individuals afflicted with Klüver-Bucy Syndrome experience behaviors such as compulsive eating, and sexual addiction. Similarly for hyperorality, the insertion of objects into the mouth, visual agnosia, and docility among many other symptomatic behaviors.


Scientists have spent significant amounts of resources to study the limbic system and problems with limbic system function. Combinations of animal studies and behavioral analysis unlocked key scientific discoveries. These helped to propel scientific understanding of this important neurological system.

However, there exists academic dispute over the use of the phrase “limbic system” in scientific discourse. Some scientists argue on the redefined boundaries of the limbic system based through a new research. These scientists contend that the brain incorporates a combination of systems working together to achieve goals, a more holistic outlook.

The Evolution of the Limbic System – And Why It Matters

3D visualization of the traced limbic system tracts

Image: CC by A-SA 3.0, Yu Q, Peng Y, Mishra V, Ouyang A, Li H, Zhang H, Chen M, Liu S and Huang H, via Wikipedia Commons

The evolution of the limbic system remains up for debate as scientists continue to make new discoveries. They also conduct research projects related to the origins of this important cluster of neurological components.

One scientist named Paul MacLean hypothesized that the limbic system exists older in evolutionary age than other structures in the forebrain. MacLean speculated that the limbic system came about because of survival adaptions.

Other studies challenged this hypothesis. Many common ancestors of both reptiles and mammals beget comprehensive limbic systems. Even birds own well-developed limbic systems, lending credence to the null hypothesis.

The Clinical Significance of the Limbic System

Several limbic system components play important roles in the formation of psychological and neurological pathologies that negatively affect the quality of life of the afflicted person.

For example, borderline personality disorder (BPD) result from problems associated with the amygdala. This appears as the primary “fight or flight” computer of the brain. Similarly, this structure cause problem in the coordination of behavioral and autonomic responses to stimuli.

Emotional content and processing result in issues for individuals with a damaged amygdala. This results as they experience increased stress and anxiety that seem inappropriate to a non-affected individual.

How the Limbic System Malfunctions Occur

Scientists Studying Alzheimer disease as they lign a sample of Alzheimer's brain tissue at the Advanced Photon Source microfocus facility as part of Limbic System Issues

Image: Public Domain US, U.S. Department of Energy, Flickr

Damage to the structures that comprise the limbic system result in serious health consequences for the affected person. Diseases that appear to lack a physical cause such as fibromyalgia lead to the association with the systems that comprise the body’s limbic cluster.

Scientists continue to conduct research in limbic system malfunctions. This gets done to ascertain the degree to which physiological damage to these systems negatively impacts the quality of life.

Tracing the Cause

Research scientists found that oxidative stress, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and blood flow problems in the brain. Ultimately, these all affect the limbic system and cause serious damage in the long term.

Other professionals continue to study so-called “invisible illnesses”. This gets accomplished by looking at the sensitivity of the limbic system in response to external stimuli. This research continues at the time of writing, and it takes time before experts concluded anything definitive from these studies.

Treating Limbic System Problems

Woman Scientist Studying the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter thought to be involved in Parkinson's disease Treating Limbic System Problems

Image: CC by 2.0, OIST, via Flickr

Although there is no exact formula for treating problems with the limbic system. As many of the types of treatments occur necessarily to return the structures to their normal states not yet developed by medical science. Luckily, there exist steps offered to manage the symptoms associated with limbic system damage.

These steps to take include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It comes as a peer-reviewed methodology for helping those who suffer from psychological illness to regain a level of control over their lives. Moreover, this moves forward in their long-term objectives.

Available treatments

Other types of treatments include neuro-linguistic programming, brain stimulation exercises, life coaching, and other types of talk therapy.

The symptoms of psychological illness resulting from limbic system malfunctions can be managed by medications. Although the exact psychiatric diagnosis ultimately determines the proper medications used in the treatment of the issue.

Many types of illnesses resulting from limbic system problems can be managed well with existing psychiatric medications. For example, schizophrenia can be taken under control with medications. Such as antipsychotic medications and antiemetics to improve the quality of life of the patient.

When It’s Time to Meet with a Doctor or Other Healthcare Professional

Some people encounter issues with hallucinations or other maladaptive psychological issues resulting from limbic system malfunctions. Now, it’s time to get a doctor involved. Reach out to your healthcare provider or community clinic to learn more about how the limbic system can be effectively treated.


Featured Image: Public Domain US, NIDA(NIH), Flickr

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