Neural connections between the hypothalamus and the liver

Anat Rec A Discov Mol Cell Evol Biol. 2004 Sep;280(1):808-20. doi: 10.1002/ar.a.20086.


After receiving information from afferent nerves, the hypothalamus sends signals to peripheral organs, including the liver, to keep homeostasis. There are two ways for the hypothalamus to signal to the peripheral organs: by stimulating the autonomic nerves and by releasing hormones from the pituitary gland. In order to reveal the involvement of the autonomic nervous system in liver function, we focus in this study on autonomic nerves and neuroendocrine connections between the hypothalamus and the liver. The hypothalamus consists of three major areas: lateral, medial, and periventricular. Each area has some nuclei. There are two important nuclei and one area in the hypothalamus that send out the neural autonomic information to the peripheral organs: the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus (VMH) in the medial area, the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA), and the periventricular hypothalamic nucleus (PVN) in the periventricular area. VMH sends sympathetic signals to the liver via the celiac ganglia, the LHA sends parasympathetic signals to the liver via the vagal nerve, and the PVN integrates information from other areas of the hypothalamus and sends both autonomic signals to the liver. As for the afferent nerves, there are two pathways: a vagal afferent and a dorsal afferent nerve pathway. Vagal afferent nerves are thought to play a role as sensors in the peripheral organs and to send signals to the brain, including the hypothalamus, via nodosa ganglia of the vagal nerve. On the other hand, dorsal afferent nerves are primary sensory nerves that send signals to the brain via lower thoracic dorsal root ganglia. In the liver, many nerves contain classical neurotransmitters (noradrenaline and acetylcholine) and neuropeptides (substance P, calcitonin gene-related peptide, neuropeptide Y, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, somatostatin, glucagon, glucagon-like peptide, neurotensin, serotonin, and galanin). Their distribution in the liver is species-dependent. Some of these nerves are thought to be involved in the regulation of hepatic function as well as of hemodynamics. In addition to direct neural connections, the hypothalamus can affect metabolic functions by neuroendocrine connections: the hypothalamus-pancreas axis, the hypothalamus-adrenal axis, and the hypothalamus-pituitary axis. In the hypothalamus-pancreas axis, autonomic nerves release glucagon and insulin, which directly enter the liver and affect liver metabolism. In the hypothalamus-adrenal axis, autonomic nerves release catecholamines such as adrenaline and noradrenaline from the adrenal medulla, which also affects liver metabolism. In the hypothalamus-pituitary axis, release of glucocorticoids and thyroid hormones is stimulated by pituitary hormones. Both groups of hormones modulate hepatic metabolism. Taken together, the hypothalamus controls liver functions by neural and neuroendocrine connections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / physiology
  • Autonomic Pathways / anatomy & histology*
  • Autonomic Pathways / physiology
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / anatomy & histology*
  • Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Liver / anatomy & histology
  • Liver / innervation*
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology*
  • Neuropeptides / physiology
  • Neurosecretory Systems / anatomy & histology*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology
  • Pancreas / physiology


  • Neuropeptides
  • Glucose