Thirst and drinking paradigms: Evolution from single factor effects to brainwide dynamic networks

Lawrence E. Armstrong, Stavros A. Kavouras

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The motivation to seek and consume water is an essential component of human fluid–electrolyte homeostasis, optimal function, and health. This review describes the evolution of concepts regarding thirst and drinking behavior, made possible by magnetic resonance imaging, animal models, and novel laboratory techniques. The earliest thirst paradigms focused on single factors such as dry mouth and loss of water from tissues. By the end of the 19th century, physiologists proposed a thirst center in the brain that was verified in animals 60 years later. During the early-and mid-1900s, the influences of gastric distention, neuroendocrine responses, circulatory properties (i.e., blood pressure, volume, concentration), and the distinct effects of intracellular dehydration and extracellular hypovolemia were recognized. The majority of these studies relied on animal models and laboratory methods such as microinjection or lesioning/oblation of specific brain loci. Following a quarter century (1994–2019) of human brain imaging, current research focuses on networks of networks, with thirst and satiety conceived as hemispheric waves of neuronal activations that traverse the brain in milliseconds. Novel technologies such as chemogenetics, optogenetics, and neuropixel microelectrode arrays reveal the dynamic complexity of human thirst, as well as the roles of motivation and learning in drinking behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2864
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2019


  • Dehydration
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Motivation
  • Neural network
  • Vasopressin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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