Neural correlates of the emergence of consciousness of thirst

Gary Egan, Tim Silk, Frank Zamarripa, John Williams, Paolo Federico, Ross Cunnington, Leonie Carabott, John Blair-West, Robert Shade, Michael McKinley, Michael Farrell, Jack Lancaster, Graeme Jacksons, Peter Fox, Derek Denton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Thirst was induced by rapid i.v. infusion of hypertonic saline (0.51 M at 13.4 ml/min). Ten humans were neuroimaged by positron-emission tomography (PET) and four by functional MRI (fMRI). PET images were made 25 min after beginning infusion, when the sensation of thirst began to enter the stream of consciousness. The fMRI images were made when the maximum rate of increase of thirst occurred. The PET results showed regional cerebral blood flow changes similar to those delineated when thirst was maximal. These loci involved the phylogenetically ancient areas of the brain. fMRI showed activation in the anterior wall of the third ventricle, an area that is key in the genesis of thirst but is not an area revealed by PET imaging. Thus, this region plays as major a role in thirst for humans as for animals. Strong activations in the brain with fMRI included the anterior cingulate, parahippocampal gyrus, inferior and middle frontal gyri, insula, and cerebellum. When the subjects drank water to satiation, thirst declined immediately to baseline. A precipitate decline in intensity of activation signal occurred in the anterior cingulate area (Brodmann area 32) putatively related to consciousness of thirst. The intensity of activation in the anterior wall of the third ventricle was essentially unchanged, which is consistent with the fact that a significant time (15-20 min) would be needed before plasma Na concentration change as a result of water absorption from the gut.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15241-15246
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
StatePublished - Dec 9 2003

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