Hypothalamus of the human fetus

J Chem Neuroanat. 2003 Dec;26(4):253-70. doi: 10.1016/j.jchemneu.2003.07.002.


The organization of the human hypothalamus was studied in 31 brains aged from 9 weeks of gestation (w.g.) to newborn, using immunohistochemistry for parvalbumin, calbindin, calretinin, neuropeptideY, neurophysin, growth associated protein GAP43, synaptophysin and glycoconjugate, 3-fucosyl-N-acetyl-lactosamine. Morphogenetic periods 9-10 and 11-14 w.g. are characterized by differentiating structures of the lateral hypothalamic zone, which give rise to the lateral hypothalamus (LH) and posterior hypothalamus. The perifornical nucleus differentiates at 18 w.g., from LH neurons which remain anchored in the perifornical position while most of the LH cells are displaced laterally. A transient supramamillary nucleus was apparent at 14 w.g. but not after 16 w.g. As the ventromedial nucleus differentiated at 13-16 w.g., three principal parts; the ventrolateral, the dorsomedial and the shell were revealed by distribution of calbindin, calretinin and GAP43 immunoreactivity. Morphogenetic periods 15-17, 18-23 and 24-33 w.g. are characterized by differentiation of the hypothalamic core, in which calbindin positive neurons revealed the medial preoptic nucleus at 16 w.g. abutted laterally by the intermediate nucleus. The dorsomedial nucleus was clearly defined at 10 w.g. and consisted of compact and diffuse parts, an organization that was lost after 15 w.g. Differentiation of the medial mamillary body into lateral and medial was seen at 13-16 w.g. Morphogenetic period after 34 w.g. was marked by differentiation of midline zone structures including suprachiasmatic, arcuate and paraventricular nuclei. The findings of the present study provide for a better understanding of the structural organization of the adult human hypothalamus, produce new evidence for homologies with the better studied rat hypothalamus and underpin staging system for fetal human hypothalamic development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / embryology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Species Specificity