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The lamina terminalis, located in the anterior wall of the third ventricle, is comprised of the subfornical organ, median preoptic nucleus (MnPO) and organum vasculosum of the lamina terminalis (OVLT). The subfornical organ and OVLT are two of the brain's circumventricular organs that lack the blood–brain barrier, and are therefore exposed to the ionic and hormonal environment of the systemic circulation. Previous investigations in sheep and rats show that this region of the brain has a crucial role in osmoregulatory vasopressin secretion and thirst. The effects of lesions of the lamina terminalis, studies of immediate–early gene expression and electrophysiological data show that all three regions of the lamina terminalis are involved in osmoregulation. There is considerable evidence that physiological osmoreceptors subserving vasopressin release are located in the dorsal cap region of the OVLT and possibly also around the periphery of the subfornical organ and in the MnPO. The circulating peptide hormones angiotensin II and relaxin also have access to peptide specific receptors (AT1 and LGR7 receptors, respectively) in the subfornical organ and OVLT, and both angiotensin II and relaxin act on the subfornical organ to stimulate water drinking in the rat. Studies that combined neuroanatomical tracing and detection of c-fos expression in response to angiotensin II or relaxin suggest that both of these circulating peptides act on neurones within the dorsal cap of the OVLT and the periphery of the subfornical organ to stimulate vasopressin release.