Ventromedial Hypothalamus: Definition & Function

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  • 0:00 Definition And…
  • 0:41 The Functions Of The VMH
  • 0:57 Appetite Suppression
  • 1:45 Fear
  • 2:45 Temperature Regulation
  • 3:40 Sexual Activity
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde
Your 'ventromedial hypothalamus' may sound scary, but really it's just a part of your brain. This lesson will explain what it is, where it is in the brain and what it does for you.

Definition and Location of the VMH

No, the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) is not a reptile, it's part of the brain that deals with several body systems. This long scientific name can be broken into three component parts that mostly describe its location in the brain.

  • 'ventral' is belly or front,
  • 'medial' means near the middle, and
  • 'hypothalamus' is a region of the brain just underneath the thalamus.

Ventromedial hypothalamus is the area toward the front of the hypothalamus in the brain
hypothalamus

So the VMH is a portion of the hypothalamus gland in the brain, underneath the thalamus, near the middle of the brain, and towards the front of the hypothalamus. Got it? Well, at least that little exercise tells us where this brain part is, but what does it do?

The Functions of the VMH

Experiments in rats have shown the VMH to be involved in food satiety, temperature regulation, fear response, and sexual activity. This is one busy little area of the brain. Imagine what would be happening in our bodies without it! Let's take a look at some of these functions.

Appetite Suppression

When the VMH of rats were intentionally damaged in early experiments, the results were dramatic; the damaged rat became quite overweight, leading scientists to believe the VMH was responsible for the telling the rat when to stop eating. This led to the VMH being known as the 'satiety center'. However, it turns out that appetite control is surprisingly complex. While the most important regulation does seem to come from the VMH, further experiments have revealed that other areas of the brain, endocrine system, and nervous system also affect appetite.

Now we know it's not accurate to label the VMH as the 'center' of satiety, but it is the most important cog in the complex system that determines satiety. This new label doesn't have quite the same ring to it as the old one, but it gets closer to the truth.

Fear

It might be a natural assumption that all 'fight or flight' responses involve the same mechanisms, but it turns out that not all fears are created equal. Experiments involving more rats showed similar behavioral and neural reactions from exposure to dominant rats or to cats. Although it was far from the only brain part involved in these fear reactions, the VMH plays an important role in proper reaction to a predator or a dominant member of the same species.

Rats with damaged VMHs showed fewer fear behaviors of this type - that is, they did not hide as effectively from either predators or dominant members of their own species. In the wild, a healthy VMH could mean the difference between life and death.

However, VMH is not responsible for all fear-based reactions. Experiments involving pain from external sources did not activate the VMH, nor did damaged VMHs lead to a change in avoiding external pain sources. In short, there must be other brain pathways that promote fear response to these types of stimulus.

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