Debunking brain myths: The brain is grey in colour

If you thought the brain is grey and has a hard muscle-like texture, think again.

Some television shows, such as the popular medical dramas and CSI, may have you believe it is grey, but in fact the brain is light pink and has a jelly-like consistency, says Dr. Lili-naz Hazrati, UHN neuropathologist and Baycrest advisor.

“I think the image of a grey brain either comes from what we see on television and movies or from the fact that we often hear reference to the ‘grey matter’ of the brain.”

The brain turns grey after it has been removed from the body and preserved. The preservative, formalin, “fixes” the brain turning it a different colour.

“If you slice through the brain, you will see two distinguishable zones, a white/ ivory zone and a more pinkish zone,” Dr. Lili-naz Hazrati explains.

“When we talk about the grey matter, we are referring to the pinkish zone which is made up of clusters of neurons (cells). The white matter refers to the extensions, or axons, that link clusters of neurons to one another. These axons are like wires which are covered with a coating of myelin (a form of fat) — like a wire covered in plastic tubing. The fat gives it the white colour.

“In contrast, the neurons sit in groups and they are not covered in myelin, so they appear more pink in colour, although they have a slight grey hue, which is probably where the term ‘grey matter’ comes from. The blood vessels running through them give it the pink tone.”

To support Baycrest and exciting initiatives, DONATE ONLINE or call the donations line at 416-785-2875 or 1-800-223-2087.