The neuroanatomical axis for control of energy balance

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2002 Jan;23(1):2-40. doi: 10.1006/frne.2001.0224.


The hypothalamic feeding-center model, articulated in the 1950s, held that the hypothalamus contains the interoceptors sensitive to blood-borne correlates of available or stored fuels as well as the integrative substrates that process metabolic and visceral afferent signals and issue commands to brainstem mechanisms for the production of ingestive behavior. A number of findings reviewed here, however, indicate that sensory and integrative functions are distributed across a central control axis that includes critical substrates in the basal forebrain as well as in the caudal brainstem. First, the interoceptors relevant to energy balance are distributed more widely than had been previously thought, with a prominent brainstem complement of leptin and insulin receptors, glucose-sensing mechanisms, and neuropeptide mediators. The physiological relevance of this multiple representation is suggested by the demonstration that similar behavioral effects can be obtained independently by stimulation of respective forebrain and brainstem subpopulations of the same receptor types (e.g., leptin, CRH, and melanocortin). The classical hypothalamic model is also challenged by the integrative achievements of the chronically maintained, supracollicular decerebrate rat. Decerebrate and neurologically intact rats show similar discriminative responses to taste stimuli and are similarly sensitive to intake-inhibitory feedback from the gut. Thus, the caudal brainstem, in neural isolation from forebrain influence, is sufficient to mediate ingestive responses to a range of visceral afferent signals. The decerebrate rat, however, does not show a hyperphagic response to food deprivation, suggesting that interactions between forebrain and brainstem are necessary for the behavioral response to systemic/ metabolic correlates of deprivation in the neurologically intact rat. At the same time, however, there is evidence suggesting that hypothalamic-neuroendocrine responses to fasting depend on pathways ascending from brainstem. Results reviewed are consistent with a distributionist (as opposed to hierarchical) model for the control of energy balance that emphasizes: (i) control mechanisms endemic to hypothalamus and brainstem that drive their unique effector systems on the basis of local interoceptive, and in the brainstem case, visceral, afferent inputs and (ii) a set of uni- and bidirectional interactions that coordinate adaptive neuroendocrine, autonomic, and behavioral responses to changes in metabolic status.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Decerebrate State / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Hormones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Neuropeptides / physiology
  • Neurosecretory Systems / anatomy & histology*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology


  • Hormones
  • Neuropeptides
  • Receptors, Cell Surface