The dorsomedial hypothalamus and the response to stress: Part renaissance, part revolution

Joseph A. DiMicco, Brian C. Samuels, Maria V. Zaretskaia, Dmitry V. Zaretsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

218 Scopus citations


Emotional stress provokes a stereotyped pattern of autonomic and endocrine changes that is highly conserved across diverse mammalian species. Nearly 50 years ago, a specific region of the hypothalamus, the hypothalamic defense area, was defined by the discovery that electrical stimulation in this area evoked changes that replicated this pattern. Attention later shifted to the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) owing to (1) elucidation of its role as the final common pathway mediating activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a defining feature of the stress response and (2) the finding that the PVN was the principal location of hypothalamic neurons that project directly to spinal autonomic regions. Consequently, a primary role for the PVN as the hypothalamic center integrating the autonomic and endocrine response to stress was inferred. However, our findings indicate that neurons in the nearby dorsomedial hypothalamus (DMH) - a region originally included in the hypothalamic defense area - and not in the PVN play a key role in the cardiovascular changes associated with emotional or exteroceptive stress. Indeed, excitation of neurons in the parvocellular PVN and consequent recruitment of the HPA axis that occurs in exteroceptive stress is also signaled from the DMH. Thus, the DMH may represent a higher order hypothalamic center responsible for integrating autonomic, endocrine and even behavioral responses to emotional stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)469-480
Number of pages12
JournalPharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 12 2002


  • Bicuculline
  • Dorsomedial hypothalamus
  • GABA
  • GABA receptors
  • Glutamate
  • Glutamate receptors
  • Heart rate
  • HPA axis
  • Muscimol
  • Paraventricular nucleus
  • Stress
  • Sympathetic nervous system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology

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