Resting-state functional connectivity of the human hypothalamus

Hum Brain Mapp. 2014 Dec;35(12):6088-96. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22607. Epub 2014 Aug 14.


The hypothalamus is of enormous importance for multiple bodily functions such as energy homeostasis. Especially, rodent studies have greatly contributed to our understanding how specific hypothalamic subregions integrate peripheral and central signals into the brain to control food intake. In humans, however, the neural circuitry of the hypothalamus, with its different subregions, has not been delineated. Hence, the aim of this study was to map the hypothalamus network using resting-state functional connectivity (FC) analyses from the medial hypothalamus (MH) and lateral hypothalamus (LH) in healthy normal-weight adults (n = 49). Furthermore, in a separate sample, we examined differences within the LH and MH networks between healthy normal-weight (n = 25) versus overweight/obese adults (n = 23). FC patterns from the LH and MH revealed significant connections to the striatum, thalamus, brainstem, orbitofrontal cortex, middle and posterior cingulum and temporal brain regions. However, our analysis revealed subtler distinctions within hypothalamic subregions. The LH was functionally stronger connected to the dorsal striatum, anterior cingulum, and frontal operculum, while the MH showed stronger functional connections to the nucleus accumbens and medial orbitofrontal cortex. Furthermore, overweight/obese participants revealed heightened FC in the orbitofrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens within the MH network. Our results indicate that the MH and LH network are tapped into different parts of the dopaminergic circuitry of the brain, potentially modulating food reward based on the functional connections to the ventral and dorsal striatum, respectively. In obese adults, FC changes were observed in the MH network.

Keywords: eating behavior; food; functional connectivity; obesity; resting-state fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Rest
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted