AskDefine | Define limbic

Dictionary Definition

limbic adj : of or relating to or forming a limbus

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Relating to the limbic system.

Extensive Definition

The limbic system is a term for a set of brain structures including the hippocampus and amygdala and anterior thalamic nuclei and a limbic cortex that support a variety of functions including emotion, behavior and long term memory. The structures of the brain described by the limbic system are closely associated with the olfactory structures. The term "limbic" comes from Latin limbus, meaning "border" or "edge".


The limbic system includes many structures in the cerebral cortex and sub-cortex of the brain. The term has been used within psychiatry and neurology, although its exact role and definition has been revised considerably since the term was introduced. The following structures are, or have been considered to be, part of the limbic system:
  • Amygdala: Involved in signaling the cortex of motivationally significant stimuli such as those related to reward and fear in addition to social functions such as mating.
  • Hippocampus:
The limbic system is also tightly connected to the prefrontal cortex. Some scientists contend that this connection is related to the pleasure obtained from solving problems. To cure severe emotional disorders, this connection was sometimes surgically severed, a procedure of psychosurgery, called a prefrontal lobotomy (this is actually a misnomer). Patients who underwent this procedure often became passive and lacked all motivation.
There is circumstantial evidence that the limbic system also provides a custodial function for the maintenance of a healthy conscious state of mind.


The limbic system is embryologically older than other parts of the brain. It developed to manage 'fight' or 'flight' chemicals and is an evolutionary necessity for reptiles as well as humans.
Recent studies of the limbic system of tetrapods have challenged some long-held tenets of forebrain evolution. The common ancestors of reptiles and mammals had a well-developed limbic system in which the basic subdivisions and connections of the amygdalar nuclei were established.


The French physician Paul Broca first called this part of the brain "le grand lobe limbique" in 1878, but most of its putative role in emotion was developed only in 1937 when the American physician James Papez described his anatomical model of emotion, the Papez circuit. Paul D. MacLean expanded these ideas to include additional structures in a more dispersed "limbic system," more on the lines of the system described above. The term was formerly introduced by MacLean in 1952. The concept of the limbic system has since been further expanded and developed by Nauta, Heimer and others.
Still, there remains much controversy over the use of the term. When it was first coined, it was posited as the emotional center of the brain, with cognition being the business of the neocortex by contrast. However, this almost immediately ran into trouble when damage to the hippocampus, a primary limbic structure, was shown to result in severe cognitive deficits. And since its inception, the delineating boundaries of the limbic system have been changed again and again by the community. More recently, attempts have been made to salvage the concept through more precise definition, but there are still no generally accepted criteria for defining its parts. Being a concept grounded more in tradition than in facts, many scientists have suggested that the concept be abandoned.


limbic in Catalan: Sistema límbic
limbic in Czech: Limbický systém
limbic in Danish: Limbiske system
limbic in German: Limbisches System
limbic in Spanish: Sistema límbico
limbic in French: Système limbique
limbic in Hebrew: המערכת הלימבית
limbic in Dutch: Limbisch systeem
limbic in Japanese: 大脳辺縁系
limbic in Polish: Układ limbiczny
limbic in Portuguese: Sistema límbico
limbic in Russian: Лимбическая система
limbic in Slovak: Limbický systém
limbic in Slovenian: Limbični sistem
limbic in Finnish: Limbinen järjestelmä
limbic in Swedish: Limbiska systemet
limbic in Yiddish: לימביק סיסטעם
limbic in Chinese: 边缘系统
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