• Open Access

Hypothalamic inflammation: a double-edged sword to nutritional diseases


Dongsheng Cai, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 1300 Morris Park Avenue, Bronx, NY 10461. dongsheng.cai@einstein.yu.edu


The hypothalamus is one of the master regulators of various physiological processes, including energy balance and nutrient metabolism. These regulatory functions are mediated by discrete hypothalamic regions that integrate metabolic sensing with neuroendocrine and neural controls of systemic physiology. Neurons and nonneuronal cells in these hypothalamic regions act supportively to execute metabolic regulations. Under conditions of brain and hypothalamic inflammation, which may result from overnutrition-induced intracellular stresses or disease-associated systemic inflammatory factors, extracellular and intracellular environments of hypothalamic cells are disrupted, leading to central metabolic dysregulations and various diseases. Recent research has begun to elucidate the effects of hypothalamic inflammation in causing diverse components of metabolic syndrome leading to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These new understandings have provocatively expanded previous knowledge on the cachectic roles of brain inflammatory response in diseases, such as infections and cancers. This review describes the molecular and cellular characteristics of hypothalamic inflammation in metabolic syndrome and related diseases as opposed to cachectic diseases, and also discusses concepts and potential applications of inhibiting central/hypothalamic inflammation to treat nutritional diseases.