The thalamus is located in the central portion of the brain; directly above the hypothalamus and is also superior to both the midbrain and the cerebral cortex. It is composed of grey matter and is split into two sections: the left thalamus and the right thalamus.
The thalamus is the first port of call for sensory signals arriving from the spinal cord: these sensory include sensory signals, somatosensory (information relating to skin and internal organs) signals and visual sensory signals. Once the thalamus receives these signals from the brainstem, it patches them through to the cerebral cortex.
Another thing that the thalamus does is help control when you are asleep and when you are awake.
The hypothalamus, despite its size, plays a major role in making sure that our bodily functions run smoothly. It is approximately the size of a pearl and is located directly above and slightly in front of the brainstem. It controls how our body functions by helping to maintain homeostasis, which is just a fancy medical term for maintaining a constant internal environment in response to changes within the outside world. It does this by regulating both our bodily functions and our body’s biochemistry; this is particularly important as they must stay within critical limits in order for us to stay alive.
Some of the homeostatic processes that the hypothalamus is in charge of include the following:
- Controlling our body temperature (normal between 36 and 38 degrees C, or 96.8-100.4 for those who speak temperature in terms of Fahrenheit)
- pH balance (preventing our body from becoming too acidic or too alkali)
- Water and electrolyte balance (I’ll discuss this in more detail below)
- Controlling our blood pressure
- Controlling our respiration
Some of the biochemical factors include stuff that you are probably already familiar with, such as Na+(sodium) and K+(potassium), but there also other key proteins and minerals that the hypothalamus monitors. One in particular, Ca2+ (calcium), is especially important as the normal limits are very narrow.
If you want more specific information, click here to find out how these minerals and how other minerals work throughout the human body (it helps to know this and I studied this in more detail at university)
The hypothalamus is also a major powerhouse when it comes to controlling our day-to-day lives, as it plays a part within these areas: