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After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Describe the anatomic connections between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland and the functional significance of each connection.

  • List the factors that control water intake, and outline the way in which they exert their effects.

  • Describe the synthesis, processing, storage, and secretion of the hormones of the posterior pituitary.

  • Discuss the effects of vasopressin, the receptors on which it acts, and how its secretion is regulated.

  • Discuss the effects of oxytocin, the receptors on which it acts, and how its secretion is regulated.

  • Name the hypophysiotropic hormones, and outline the effects that each has an anterior pituitary function.

  • List the mechanisms by which heat is produced in and lost from the body, and comment on the differences in temperature in the hypothalamus, rectum, oral cavity, and skin.

  • List the temperature-regulating mechanisms, and describe the way in which they are integrated under hypothalamic control to maintain normal body temperature.

  • Discuss the pathophysiology of fever.


Many of the complex autonomic mechanisms that maintain the chemical constancy and temperature of the internal environment are integrated in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus also functions with the limbic system as a unit that regulates emotional and instinctual behavior.


The hypothalamus (Figure 17–1) is the portion of the anterior end of the diencephalon that lies below the hypothalamic sulcus and in front of the interpeduncular nuclei. It is divided into a variety of nuclei and nuclear areas.


Human hypothalamus, with a superimposed diagrammatic representation of the portal hypophysial vessels.


The principal afferent and efferent neural pathways to and from the hypothalamus are mostly unmyelinated. Many connect the hypothalamus to the limbic system. Important connections also exist between the hypothalamus and nuclei in the midbrain tegmentum, pons, and hindbrain.

Norepinephrine-secreting neurons with their cell bodies in the hindbrain end in many different parts of the hypothalamus (see Figure 7–2). Paraventricular neurons that secrete oxytocin and vasopressin project in turn to the hindbrain and the spinal cord. Neurons that secrete epinephrine have their cell bodies in the hindbrain and end in the ventral hypothalamus.


Secretion of hypothalamic hormones. The hormones of the posterior lobe (PL) are released into the general circulation from the endings of supraoptic and paraventricular neurons, whereas hypophysiotropic hormones are secreted into the portal hypophysial circulation from the endings of arcuate and other hypothalamic neurons. AL, anterior lobe; MB, mamillary bodies; OC, optic chiasm.

An intrahypothalamic system is composed of dopamine-secreting neurons that have their cell bodies in the arcuate nucleus ...

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