The rise, fall, and resurrection of the ventromedial hypothalamus in the regulation of feeding behavior and body weight

Physiol Behav. 2006 Feb 28;87(2):221-44. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2005.10.007. Epub 2006 Jan 18.


Early researchers found that lesions of the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) resulted in hyperphagia and obesity in a variety of species including humans, which led them to designate the VMH as the brain's "satiety center." Many researchers later dismissed a role for the VMH in feeding behavior when Gold claimed that lesions restricted to the VMH did not result in overeating and that obesity was observed only with lesions or knife cuts that extended beyond the borders of the VMH and damaged or severed the ventral noradrenergic bundle (VNAB) or paraventricular nucleus (PVN). However, anatomical studies done both before and after Gold's study did not replicate his results with lesions, and in nearly every published direct comparison of VMH lesions vs. PVN or VNAB lesions, the group with VMH lesions ate substantially more food and gained twice as much weight. Several other important differences have also been found between VMH and both PVN and VNAB lesion-induced obesity. Concerns regarding (a) motivation to work for food and (b) the effects of nonirritative lesions have also been addressed and answered in many studies. Lesion studies with weanling rats and adult pair-tube-fed rats, as well as recent studies of knockout mice deficient in the orphan nuclear receptor steroidogenic factor 1, indicate that VMH lesion-induced obesity is in large part a metabolic obesity (due to autonomic nervous system disorders) independent of hyperphagia. However, there is ample evidence that the VMH also plays a primary role in feeding behavior. Neuroimaging studies in humans have shown a marked increase in activity in the area of the VMH during feeding. The VMH has a large population of glucoresponsive neurons that dynamically respond to blood glucose levels and numerous histamine, dopamine, serotonin, and GABA neurons that respond to feeding-related stimuli. Recent studies have implicated melanocortins in the VMH regulation of feeding behavior: food intake decreases when arcuate nucleus pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons activate VMH brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) neurons. Moderate hyperphagia and obesity have also been observed in female rats with damage to the efferent projections from the posterodorsal amygdala to the VMH. Hypothalamic obesity can result from damage to either the POMC or BDNF neurons. The concept of hypothalamic feeding and satiety centers is outdated and unnecessary, and progress in understanding hypothalamic mechanisms of feeding behavior will be achieved only by appreciating the different types of neural and blood-borne information received by the various nuclei, and then attempting to determine how this information is integrated to obtain a balance between energy intake and energy output.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Ventromedial Hypothalamic Nucleus / physiology*