Anatomy of the Hypothalamus: Diagram, functions and Associated Diseases

Hypothalamus Overview

The hypothalamus is a small (about the size of an almond) region located directly above the brainstem. It is buried deep within the brain and not visible without dissecting the brain. The hypothalamus is a small region of the brain. It’s located at the base of the brain, near the pituitary gland.

 


The hypothalamus plays a crucial role in many important functions, including:
  • Releasing hormones
  • Regulating body temperature
  • Maintaining daily physiological cycles
  • Controlling appetite
  • Managing of sexual behavior
  • Regulating emotional responses

Anatomy  And function of the Hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is found underneath the thalamus and comprises the floor of the third ventricle (one of four open spaces in the brain through which cerebrospinal fluid flows). The hypothalamus extends downward from the brain into a stalk known as the pituitary stalk (or infundibular stalk), which connects it to the pituitary gland.
The Hypothalamus is divided into three main regions, each containing distinct nuclei and neuron clusters that are assigned various functions:

The anterior region of Hypothalamus

The anterior region of the hypothalamus is known as the supraoptic region. The anterior region of the hypothalamus also helps regulate body temperature through sweat. It also maintains circadian rhythms. These are physical and behavioral changes that occur on a daily cycle. For example, being awake during the day and sleeping at nighttime is a circadian rhythm related to the presence or absence of light.
Some of the most important hormones produced in the anterior region include:
  • Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH is involved in the body’s response to both physical and emotional stress. It signals the pituitary gland to produce a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH triggers the production of cortisol, an important stress hormone.
  • Thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). TRH production stimulates the pituitary gland to produce thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH plays an important role in the function of many body parts, such as the heart, gastrointestinal tract, and muscles.
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH production causes the pituitary gland to produce important reproductive hormones, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).
  • Oxytocin. This hormone controls many important behaviors and emotions, such as sexual arousal, trust, recognition, and maternal behavior. It’s also involved in some functions of the reproductive system, such as childbirth and lactation.
  • Vasopressin. Also called antidiuretic hormone (ADH), this hormone regulates water levels in the body. When vasopressin is released, it signals the kidneys to absorb water.
  • Somatostatin. Somatostatin works to stop the pituitary gland from releasing certain hormones, including growth hormones and thyroid-stimulating hormones.

The middle region of hypothalamus

The middle region of the hypothalamus is known as the tuberal region and its primary nuclei are the ventromedial and arcuate nuclei. The ventromedial nucleus controls the appetite and the arcuate nucleus releases the growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), which stimulates the pituitary gland to produce growth hormone (as its name so thoroughly explains).

Hypothalamus Medical conditions

When the hypothalamus doesn’t work properly, it’s called hypothalamic dysfunction.
Several things can cause hypothalamic dysfunction, including:
  • head injuries
  • certain genetic disorders, such as growth hormone deficiency
  • birth defects involving the brain or hypothalamus
  • tumors in or around the hypothalamus
  • eating disorders, such as anorexia
  • autoimmune conditions
  • surgery involving the brain
Hypothalamic dysfunction plays a role in many conditions, including:
  • Diabetes insipidus. If the hypothalamus doesn’t produce and release enough vasopressin, the kidneys can remove too much water. This causes increased urination and thirst. Unlike people with diabetes mellitus, people with diabetes insipidus have stable blood sugar levels.
  • Prader-Willi syndrome. This is a rare, inherited disorder. It causes the hypothalamus to not register when someone is full after eating. People with Prader-Willi syndrome have a constant urge to eat, increasing their risk of obesity. Additional symptoms include a slower metabolism and decreased muscle.
  • Hypopituitarism. This disorder happens when the pituitary gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. While it’s usually caused by damage to the pituitary gland, hypothalamic dysfunction can also cause it. Many hormones produced by the hypothalamus directly affect those produced by the pituitary gland.

Some Tips for a healthy hypothalamus

While some hypothalamus conditions are unavoidable, there are a few things you can do to keep your hypothalamus healthy.

Do some Exercise

Like eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep, regular exercise boosts your overall health. However, if you’re having trouble with the diet part, exercise is particularly important. A 2012 study involving mice found that even a mild amount of regular exercise reduced hypothalamic inflammation related to a high-fat diet.

Eat a balanced diet

According to Trusted Source while eating a balanced diet is important for every body part, it’s especially crucial when it comes to the hypothalamus. A recent studyTrusted Source in mice found that eating a high-fat diet led to inflammation of the hypothalamus.

Another studyTrusted Source in mice found that a high-sugar diet also caused inflammation of the hypothalamus. To reduce your risk, make sure you’re aware of how much sugar you consume per day.

Get enough sleep

A 2014 studyTrusted Source found that sleep deprivation was associated with hypothalamic dysfunction in rats. In addition, researchers involved in the study suggest that sleep deprivation may increase someone’s risk of neurological diseases.

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