Brain Myth -- Your Brain Is Gray

When people think about a brain, they might visualize a preserved brain sitting in a jar in a classroom that is often white or gray in color. But in reality, the living brain isn't a dull gray color – it is also red, white, and black.

This myth, like many myths about the brain, has a grain of truth, because a lot of the brain is gray. Gray matter exists throughout the brain (and in the spinal cord). However, the brain also contains white matter, which comprises nerve fibers that connect the gray matter. Another part of the brain that gives it color resides in the basal ganglia -- a component called substantia nigra (Latin for “black substance”) which is black. And the many blood vessels in the brain add a red appearance to parts of the brain.

So why does a brain look grey color when it is sitting in a jar in a classroom? That bland, spongy color is caused by chemicals such as formaldehyde that keep the brain preserved. The living brain is actually a lot more colorful!

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