The brain stem controls breathing and heart rate as well as blood pressure and alertness. Found at the top of the spinal column, the brain stem consists of three main parts, including the medulla oblongata, pons and midbrain. The medulla oblongata controls cardiac and respiratory rates.
Also found in the brain stem are 10 of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves that are responsible for motor and sensory functions of the face. The central nervous system is also controlled by the brain stem as are consciousness, sleeping and eating. Injury to this vital structure of the brain often results in death.