Anotomical References

Anatomical references are not only important in surgery, but knowing them facilitates speech and orientation in various fields.

Main Definitions 

Anterior or rostral (Latin for ‘beak’): direction pointing towards head

Posterior or caudal (Latin for ‘tail’): direction pointing towards feet

  • The spinal cord runs anterior to posterior with a ventral and dorsal side.

Dorsal (Latin for ‘back): direction pointing upwards; think dorsal fin

Ventral (Latin for ‘belly’): direction pointing downwards


Bilateral symmetry: the right side of the brain and spinal cord is the mirror image of the left side

Midline: invisible line running down the middle of the nervous system

  • Medial: structures closer to the midline
  • Lateral: structures further from the midline

Ipsilateral: two structures that are on the same side of the midline

Contralateral: two structures that are on opposites sides of the midline

Making Sections of Tissue 

The standard approach when making sections or slices of tissue is to cut parallel to one of the three anatomical planes.

  • Midsagittal plane: plane of the section resulting from splitting in the brain into left and right halves
  • Coronal plane: splits in the brain into dorsal and ventral halves
  • Horizontal plane: splits the brain into anterior and posterior halves



Bear, Mark F., Barry W. Connors, and Michael A. Paradiso. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007. Print.