The Versatile Tanycyte: A Hypothalamic Integrator of Reproduction and Energy Metabolism

Endocr Rev. 2018 Jun 1;39(3):333-368. doi: 10.1210/er.2017-00235.


The fertility and survival of an individual rely on the ability of the periphery to promptly, effectively, and reproducibly communicate with brain neural networks that control reproduction, food intake, and energy homeostasis. Tanycytes, a specialized glial cell type lining the wall of the third ventricle in the median eminence of the hypothalamus, appear to act as the linchpin of these processes by dynamically controlling the secretion of neuropeptides into the portal vasculature by hypothalamic neurons and regulating blood-brain and blood-cerebrospinal fluid exchanges, both processes that depend on the ability of these cells to adapt their morphology to the physiological state of the individual. In addition to their barrier properties, tanycytes possess the ability to sense blood glucose levels, and play a fundamental and active role in shuttling circulating metabolic signals to hypothalamic neurons that control food intake. Moreover, accumulating data suggest that, in keeping with their putative descent from radial glial cells, tanycytes are endowed with neural stem cell properties and may respond to dietary or reproductive cues by modulating hypothalamic neurogenesis. Tanycytes could thus constitute the missing link in the loop connecting behavior, hormonal changes, signal transduction, central neuronal activation and, finally, behavior again. In this article, we will examine these recent advances in the understanding of tanycytic plasticity and function in the hypothalamus and the underlying molecular mechanisms. We will also discuss the putative involvement and therapeutic potential of hypothalamic tanycytes in metabolic and fertility disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Ependymoglial Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / physiology*
  • Reproduction / physiology*