I have troubles using the terms Cortex & Deep Nuclei, and 'Nuclei' in general. From what I understand, a brain has '3 matter types in accordance to anatomical locations'

  • Superficial Grey matter - This is called the 'Cortex (Cerebral or Cerebellar Cortex)'

  • Middle White Matter This is called 'Cerebral/Cerebellar White Matter' separating the cortex and deep nuclei

  • Deep Grey Matter, deep to the cortex -This is called 'Deep Nuclei' (for e.g.: Basal Nuclei of the Cerebrum, and four deep Cerebellar Nuclei (dentate, globose, emboliform, and fastigial))

Quote from the book that helps me to jump into this conclusion or summary:

'The brain, like the spinal cord, is composed of gray and white matter. Gray matter - the seat of the neurosomas, dendrites, and synapses - forms a surface layer called the CORTEX over the cerebrum & cerebellum, and deeper masses called NUCLEI surrounded by white matter... (Saladin 2015, Unity of Form & Function, McGrawHill)

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Thank you!

  • $\begingroup$ What exactly are you confused by? $\endgroup$
    – Jam
    Jul 24, 2019 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Jam. Thanks for your reply. I'm wondering that if we call anything brain's grey matter in any location 'nuclei' (Cerebral Cortex, Cerebellar Cortex, Basal Nuclei, and dentate, globose, emboliform, and fastigial are all nuclei) $\endgroup$ Jul 24, 2019 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ In comparison, it's called 'cortex' in the superficial area, and 'deep nuclei' in the deep area. For example Cerebral Cortex & Cerebellar cortex are grey matter in the superficial part of the brain. For deep nuclei, examples are basal nuclei (in the deep part of the brain, deep to the cerebral cortex). $\endgroup$ Jul 24, 2019 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ I'm mostly concerned of how we call grey matter in 3 different situations: (1) In general, either in superficial or deep brain locations (2) On the surface of the brain (3) Deep part of the brain, deep to the cortex & white matter. Thank you! $\endgroup$ Jul 24, 2019 at 13:09

1 Answer 1


"Cortex" is a more general anatomical term for the outermost layer of a structure. It applies to both the cerebral and cerebellar cortex gray matter, as these are gray matter structures on the outsides of their respective parts of the brain.

Nucleus is also a more general term; in the context of neuroanatomy, it refers to a cluster of cell bodies. Typically we refer to CNS clusters of cell bodies as nuclei, and in the periphery they are called ganglia, though there are some odd exceptions like the basal ganglia (you referred to the basal nuclei in a comment, which are the same structure, but are almost always called the basal ganglia, whether or not that term is the 'best' term).

White matter, in general, is nervous tissue that appears white because it is primarily "fatty" from the lipid bilayer of cell membranes and consisting of processes like axons (especially myelinated ones) and dendrites rather than cell bodies.

I'm not aware of anyone who would call the cerebral cortex (or cerebellar cortex) a "nucleus": these areas are not shaped as clusters of cell bodies, they are shaped as sheets. The distinction is really only an anatomical one, so it makes little sense to use "nucleus" in a more general term to mean "nervous tissue consisting of cell bodies": we already have a term for that, "gray matter," and in most cases interesting to science we are talking about something more specific anyways.

I'd further say that these distinctions are really only gross anatomical ones, as one can have cell bodies outside white matter, and areas of gray matter like neocortex also include a mostly-white layer of axons and dendrites in "layer 1" but we still treat this as gray matter with respect to the whole brain.

Ultimately it doesn't matter: don't take anatomical terms more seriously than the things they are describing.


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