The human hypothalamus: comparative morphometry and photoperiodic influences.


The concept of the hypothalamus as a distinct neurological entity concerned with a variety of regulatory processes dates back to the end of the 19th century. Before 1900 there were only vague intimations of the function of the brain surrounding the third ventricle and these were based primarily on various pathological and assorted clinical observations. Since then a large body of evidence has been derived implicating that the hypothalamus contains the control systems which are critically involved in many physiological, endocrine and behavioral processes. Among these are feeding and drinking, reproduction and the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle and temperature. Although the human hypothalamus accounts for only 4 cm3, or 0.3% of the adult brain volume, it contains the integrative systems critical for all these processes. A comparative morphometric analysis of the hypothalamus among mammals revealed that the volume of this part of the brain is highly correlated with brain size, irrespective of the ecological strategy or evolutionary history of the species considered. It appears that the human hypothalamus has just the size we may expect of such a large-brained mammal, but it is considerably larger than would be predicted from its body size. In mammals the preoptic region of the hypothalamus is implicated in the neural control of endocrine functions and in the temporal organization of a wide spectrum of biological rhythms. In recent years, the pivotal role of two hypothalamic cell groups have been considered in this context: the sexually dimorphic nucleus (SDN-POA) as part of the neural circuitry underlying masculine sexual behavior and reproductive functions and the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) as the principal component of the central clock mechanism. Consistent with its role in the temporal organization of circadian processes, investigations in rodents and non-human primates suggest that the SCN is also involved in the seasonal control of reproductive and metabolic phenomena. Since the environmental light-dark cycle is the main Zeitgeber for circadian and seasonal rhythms in most species, including man, photic information could have substantial effects, not only on the neural activity of the biological clock, but also on its underlying structure. Our observations on the human SCN in relation to photoperiod indeed revealed a marked seasonal variation in the morphology of the human SCN. The volume of the SCN was, on average, twice as large in the autumn as in the summer and contained more than twice as many vasopressin immunoreactive neurons.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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@article{Hofman1992TheHH, title={The human hypothalamus: comparative morphometry and photoperiodic influences.}, author={Michel A. Hofman and Dick F. Swaab}, journal={Progress in brain research}, year={1992}, volume={93}, pages={133-47; discussion 148-9} }