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The Hypothalamus, the Preoptic Area, and Hypothalamohypophysial Systems

  • Hans J. ten DonkelaarEmail author
  • Akira Hori
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Abstract

The rather small hypothalamus and preoptic area contain a large number of more or less well-defined cell groups that are of utmost importance for preserving the individual and the species. From a developmental point of view, the hypothalamus and preoptic area have different origins but, despite ontogenetical differences, the hypothalamus and preoptic area are usually seen as a continuum. The hypothalamus is involved in a wide variety of functions in the brain and is characterized by numerous connections with practically every major part of the central nervous system (CNS), including the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus, the amygdala, the thalamus, the cerebellum, the brain stem and the spinal cord. Alterations in hypothalamic nuclei are found in various endocrine diseases such as diabetes insipidus and Wolfram and Prader-Willi syndromes and in various neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer, Parkinson and Huntington diseases.

Through its intimate neuronal and vascular relationships with the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus controls the release of the pituitary hormones, thereby bringing the entire endocrine system under the control of the CNS. The magnocellular secretory system, composed of supraoptic and paraventricular neurons, gives rise to axons that innervate the posterior lobe of the pituitary via the tuberohypophysial tract. All other hypothalamic control of pituitary function is achieved through neurohumoral mechanisms via the portal plexus in the external zone of the median eminence. Neurosecretory neurons throughout the hypothalamus, more in particular the arcuate nucleus, project to the median eminence. This parvocellular secretory system controls the anterior pituitary.

The hypothalamus is concerned with generalized response patterns that often involve autonomic, somatomotor and endocrine systems. Following a brief description of the development of the hypothalamus and preoptic area (► Sect. 13.2), their boundaries and subdivision (► Sect. 13.3), their fibre connections with the CNS (► Sect. 13.4) and with the hypophysis (► Sect. 13.5) and aspects of the functional organization of the hypothalamus such as the control of feeding, reproduction, thermoregulation and sleep (► Sect. 13.6) will be discussed. Damage to different parts of the hypothalamohypophysial system may result in various neuroendocrine disturbances. Autonomic dysfunctions in the respiratory, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems are commonly seen, as are disturbances in temperature regulation, water balance, sexual behaviour and food intake. Some examples are presented as Clinical cases. The English terms of the Terminologia Neuroanatomica are used throughout.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.935 Department of NeurologyRadboud University Medical Centre and Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and BehaviourNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of NeuropathologyMedizinische HochschuleHannoverGermany

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