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Corpus Callosum

What Is It, Location, Function, and More

Author:Maria Emfietzoglou, MD

Editors:Alyssa Haag,Ian Mannarino, MD, MBA,Kelsey LaFayette, DNP, RN, FNP-C

Illustrator:Jessica Reynolds, MS

Copyeditor:David G. Walker


What is the corpus callosum?

The corpus callosum is a thick bundle of nerve fibers that connects the two cerebral hemispheres, allowing them to communicate. It is also involved in movement control, cognitive functions, and vision. Dysfunction of the corpus callosum can occur due to aging, recurrent infantile seizures, stroke, and infections. Failure of development of the corpus callosum may be due to maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy. 

Cross section of the brain sowing the thick bundle of nerve fibers, or corpus callosum.

Where is the corpus callosum located?

The corpus callosum is located in the center of the brain at the base of the longitudinal fissure, which is a deep, midline, sagittal groove that connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres. The corpus callosum is part of the white matter of the brain, which is made up of myelinated axons that are extensions of the neuronal cell bodies. It is one of the largest white matter structures in the nervous system, containing over 200 million axons. It has four parts: the rostrum, genu, body, and splenium. The body is the central and longest part of the corpus callosum; it continues rostrally as the genu and caudally as the splenium. 

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What is the role of the corpus callosum?

The main role of the corpus callosum is to serve as a conduit allowing information to transmit from one side of the brain to the other (e.g., from the left to right frontal lobes). It is also hypothesized to play a major role in movement control, cognitive functions (such as memory and learning), and vision. 

What conditions cause dysfunction of the corpus callosum?

Dysfunction of the corpus callosum leads to diminished or total loss of communication between the two cerebral hemispheres, which causes a condition called split-brain. Signs and symptoms include pseudobulbar palsy, which is characterized by impaired coordination of facial muscles and unusual facial expressions; slurred speech; difficulty swallowing; ataxia, or lack of balance and coordination; and atypical eye movements. Additionally, impaired function of the corpus callosum can lead to alien hand syndrome, where the individual cannot control hand movements, usually of the left hand. 

There are various causes of corpus callosum dysfunction. These include aging, which can cause weakness in the integrity of corpus callosum, and early infantile epileptic encephalopathy, which is a condition characterized by recurrent and unprovoked seizures during early infancy. Less common causes of dysfunction include stroke, infections, and tumors. 

Dysfunction of corpus callosum can also be due to partial or complete agenesis (i.e., failure to develop) of the corpus callosum in a newborn. The most common cause is maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy, which can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome characterized by the absence of the corpus callosum, growth retardation, intellectual disability, and craniofacial defects. However, it can also occur due to genetic syndromes that run in families (e.g., Aicardi syndrome, Chiari malformation) as well as infections during pregnancy. 

As there is no cure for corpus callosum dysfunction, management focuses on genetic counseling to identify potential genetic causes, medications to prevent seizures (e.g., phenytoin), physical therapy to address ataxia and developmental delay, as well as special education to minimize intellectual disability. 

What are the most important facts to know about the corpus callosum?

Corpus callosum is a large white matter nerve tract that is located deep to the longitudinal fissure, which connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres. It is also involved in movement control, cognitive functions, and vision. Dysfunction of corpus callosum can lead to pseudobulbar palsy, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, ataxia, abnormal eye movements, and alien hand syndrome. Causes of dysfunction include damage due to aging, early infantile epileptic encephalopathy, as well as agenesis of the corpus callosum due to fetal alcohol syndrome. There is no cure for corpus callosum dysfunction and treatment is primarily supportive. 

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Related links

Anatomy of the cerebral cortex
Anatomy of the white matter tracts
Anatomy of the limbic system

Resources for research and reference

Agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC). (2021). In Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/6029-agenesis-of-the-corpus-callosum-acc

Flint Rehab. (2021). Corpus callosum damage: What to expect and how to treat it. In Flint Rehab. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from https://www.flintrehab.com/corpus-callosum-injury/

Gould, D. J. (2014). Neuroanatomy. Philadelphia. Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Moore, K. L., Dalley, A. F., & Agur, A. M. R. (2014). Clinically oriented anatomy (7th ed.). Philadelphia. Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Health.

Sand, R. Split-brain syndrome. In Britannica. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/science/split-brain-syndrome

Shahib, S. (2022). Corpus Callosum. In Kenhub. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/corpus-callosum

Splittgerber, R. (2019). Snell's clinical neuroanatomy. Philadelphia. Wolters Kluwer.

Waxman, S. G. (2020). Clinical neuroanatomy (29th ed.). New York. McGraw-Hill.