The hypothalamus is a small region of the brain. It’s located at the base of the brain, near the pituitary gland.
While it’s very small, the hypothalamus plays a crucial role in many important functions, including:
The hypothalamus has three main regions. Each one contains different nuclei. These are clusters of neurons that perform vital functions, such as releasing hormones.
This area is also called the supraoptic region. Its major nuclei include the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei. There are several other smaller nuclei in the anterior region as well.
The nuclei in the anterior region are largely involved in the secretion of various hormones. Many of these hormones interact with the nearby pituitary gland to produce additional hormones.
Some of the most important hormones produced in the anterior region include:
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.
This area is also called the tuberal region. Its major nuclei are the ventromedial and arcuate nuclei.
The ventromedial nucleus helps control appetite, while the arcuate nucleus is involved in releasing growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH). GHRH stimulates the pituitary gland to produce growth hormone. This is responsible for the growth and development of the body.
This area is also called the mammillary region. The posterior hypothalamic nucleus and mammillary nuclei are its main nuclei.
The posterior hypothalamic nucleus helps regulate body temperature by causing shivering and blocking sweat production.
The role of the mammillary nuclei is less clear. Doctors believe it’s involved in memory function.
Use this interactive 3-D diagram to explore the hypothalamus.
When the hypothalamus doesn’t work properly, it’s called hypothalamic dysfunction.
Several things can cause hypothalamic dysfunction, including:
Hypothalamic dysfunction plays a role in many conditions, including:
Hypothalamic conditions can cause a range of symptoms. Which symptoms you may experience depend on the part of the hypothalamus and types of hormones involved.
Some symptoms that could signal a hypothalamus problem include: