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Physiology & behavior  2011;104(4):546-554.
The central nervous melanocortin system is a neural network linking nutrient-sensing systems with hypothalamic, limbic and hindbrain neurons regulating behavior and metabolic homeostasis. Primary melanocortin neurons releasing melanocortin receptor ligands residing in the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus are regulated by nutrient-sensing and metabolic signals. A smaller group of primary neurons releasing melanocortin agonists in the nucleus tractus solitarius in the brainstem are also regulated by signals of metabolic state. Two melanocortin receptors regulate energy homeostasis. Melanocortin-4 receptors regulate satiety and autonomic outputs controlling peripheral metabolism. The functions of melanocortin-3 receptors (MC3R) expressed in hypothalamic and limbic structures are less clear. Here we discuss published data and preliminary observations from our laboratory suggesting that neural MC3R regulate inputs into systems governing the synchronization of rhythms in behavioral and metabolism with nutrient intake. Mice subjected to a restricted feeding protocol, where a limited number of calories are presented at a 24 h interval, rapidly exhibit bouts of increased wakefulness and activity which anticipate food presentation. The full expression of these responses is dependent on MC3R. Moreover, MC3R knockout mice are unique in exhibiting a dissociation of weight loss from improved glucose homeostasis when subject to a restricted feeding protocol. While mice lacking MC3R fed ad libitum exhibit normal to moderate hyperinsulinemia, when subjected to a restricted protocol they develop hyperglycemia, glucose intolerance, and dyslipidemia. Collectively, our data suggest that the central nervous melanocortin system is a point convergence in the control of energy balance and the expression of rhythms anticipating nutrient intake.
The paper represents an invited review by a symposium, award winner or keynote speaker at the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior [SSIB] Annual Meeting in Pittsburg, July 2010.
PMCID: PMC3139773  PMID: 21497617
Circadian rhythm; anticipation; food anticipatory activity; satiety; homeostasis; clock; melanocortin; hypothalamus
2.  Hormonal regulation of the hypothalamic melanocortin system 
Regulation of energy homeostasis is fundamental for life. In animal species and humans, the Central Nervous System (CNS) plays a critical role in such regulation by integrating peripheral signals and modulating behavior and the activity of peripheral organs. A precise interplay between CNS and peripheral signals is necessary for the regulation of food intake and energy expenditure in the maintenance of energy balance. Within the CNS, the hypothalamus is a critical center for monitoring, processing and responding to peripheral signals, including hormones such as ghrelin, leptin, and insulin. Once in the brain, peripheral signals regulate neuronal systems involved in the modulation of energy homeostasis. The main hypothalamic neuronal circuit in the regulation of energy metabolism is the melanocortin system. This review will give a summary of the most recent discoveries on the hormonal regulation of the hypothalamic melanocortin system in the control of energy homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC4260486  PMID: 25538630
hypothalamic melanocortin system; arcuate nucleus; pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC); neuropeptide Y (NPY); agouti-related peptide (AgRP); hormones; obesity
3.  Modulation of the central melanocortin system by leptin, insulin, and serotonin: co-ordinated actions in a dispersed neuronal network 
Over the past century, prevalent models of energy and glucose homeostasis have been developed from a better understanding of the neural circuits underlying obesity and diabetes. From the early hypothalamic lesion reports to the more recent pharmacological and molecular/genetic studies, the hypothalamic melanocortin system has been shown to play a critical role in the regulation of metabolism. This review attempts to highlight contributions to our current understanding of how numerous neuromodulators (leptin, insulin, and serotonin) integrate with the central melanocortin system to coordinate alterations in energy and glucose balance.
PMCID: PMC3085544  PMID: 21211525
leptin; insulin; serotonin; obesity; diabetes; patch-clamp
4.  Central melanocortin receptors regulate insulin action 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2001;108(7):1079-1085.
Energy balance and insulin action are tightly coregulated. Leptin regulates energy intake and expenditure partly by modulation of the melanocortin pathway in the hypothalamus. Here we demonstrate potent effects of the melanocortin pathway on insulin action and body distribution of adiposity. Conscious rats received week-long infusions of either a melanocortin receptor agonist, α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH), or antagonist, SHU9119, in the third cerebral ventricle while food intake was maintained constant in each group. α-MSH decreased intra-abdominal fat and markedly enhanced the actions of insulin on both glucose uptake and production, while SHU9119 exerted opposite effects. Our findings elucidate a neuroendocrine network that is likely to play a central role in the coupling of energy intake and insulin action.
PMCID: PMC200952  PMID: 11581309
5.  Development of an Assay for High-Throughput Energy Expenditure Monitoring in the Zebrafish 
Zebrafish  2013;10(3):343-352.
Energy homeostasis is maintained by balancing energy intake and expenditure. Many signals regulating energy intake are conserved between the human and teleost. However, before this work, there was no sensitive high-throughput system to monitor energy expenditure in the teleost. We exploit the nonfluorescent and fluorescent properties of resazurin and its reduced form resorufin (alamarBlue®) to monitor energy expenditure responses to drug application and genetic manipulation. We show that leptin, insulin, and alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) increase energy expenditure dose dependently in the larval zebrafish. As previously established in the mouse, etomoxir, a carnitine palmitoyl transferase I inhibitor, blocks leptin-induced energy expenditure in the zebrafish. Metformin, the most commonly prescribed insulin sensitizer, increases the insulin-induced metabolic rate. Using genetic knockdown, we observed that α-MSH treatment increases the metabolic rate, as does knockdown of the melanocortin antagonist, agouti-related protein. The agouti-related protein and multiple melanocortin receptors are shown to be involved in these effects. These studies confirm that aspects of hormonal regulation of energy expenditure are conserved in the teleost, and suggest that this assay may provide a unique tool to perform in vivo screens for drugs or genes that affect the metabolic rate, including insulin or leptin sensitizers.
PMCID: PMC3806375  PMID: 23705823
6.  Functional Heterogeneity of Arcuate Nucleus Pro-Opiomelanocortin Neurons: Implications for Diverging Melanocortin Pathways 
Molecular neurobiology  2012;45(2):225-233.
Arcuate nucleus (ARC) pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons are essential regulators of food intake, energy expenditure, and glucose homeostasis. POMC neurons integrate several key metabolic signals that include neurotransmitters and hormones. The change in activity of POMC neurons is relayed to melanocortin receptors in distinct regions of the central nervous system. This review will summarize the role of leptin and serotonin receptors in regulating the activity of POMC neurons and provide a model in which different melanocortin pathways regulate energy and glucose homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC3755591  PMID: 22328135
Melanocortin; Leptin; Serotonin; Segregation; Insulin; Energy expenditure; Body weight; Adiposity; Hyperglycemia; TRPC; PI3K
7.  AMPK is essential for energy homeostasis regulation and glucose sensing by POMC and AgRP neurons 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2007;117(8):2325-2336.
Hypothalamic AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) has been suggested to act as a key sensing mechanism, responding to hormones and nutrients in the regulation of energy homeostasis. However, the precise neuronal populations and cellular mechanisms involved are unclear. The effects of long-term manipulation of hypothalamic AMPK on energy balance are also unknown. To directly address such issues, we generated POMCα2KO and AgRPα2KO mice lacking AMPKα2 in proopiomelanocortin– (POMC-) and agouti-related protein–expressing (AgRP-expressing) neurons, key regulators of energy homeostasis. POMCα2KO mice developed obesity due to reduced energy expenditure and dysregulated food intake but remained sensitive to leptin. In contrast, AgRPα2KO mice developed an age-dependent lean phenotype with increased sensitivity to a melanocortin agonist. Electrophysiological studies in AMPKα2-deficient POMC or AgRP neurons revealed normal leptin or insulin action but absent responses to alterations in extracellular glucose levels, showing that glucose-sensing signaling mechanisms in these neurons are distinct from those pathways utilized by leptin or insulin. Taken together with the divergent phenotypes of POMCα2KO and AgRPα2KO mice, our findings suggest that while AMPK plays a key role in hypothalamic function, it does not act as a general sensor and integrator of energy homeostasis in the mediobasal hypothalamus.
PMCID: PMC1934578  PMID: 17671657
8.  The role of the central melanocortin system in the regulation of food intake and energy homeostasis: lessons from mouse models 
A little more than a decade ago, the molecular basis of the lipostat was largely unknown. At that time, many laboratories were at work attempting to clone the genes encoding the obesity, diabetes, fatty, tubby and agouti loci, with the hope that identification of these obesity genes would help shed light on the process of energy homeostasis, appetite and energy expenditure. Characterization of obesity and diabetes elucidated the nature of the adipostatic hormone leptin and its receptor, respectively, while cloning of the agouti gene eventually led to the identification and characterization of one of the key neural systems upon which leptin acts to regulate intake and expenditure. In this review, we describe the neural circuitry known as the central melanocortin system and discuss the current understanding of its role in feeding and other processes involved in energy homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC1642695  PMID: 16815803
melanocortin; leptin; MC4-R; agouti
9.  Unacylated Ghrelin Suppresses Ghrelin-Induced Neuronal Activity in the Hypothalamus and Brainstem of Male Rats 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e98180.
Ghrelin, the endogenous growth hormone secretagogue, has an important role in metabolic homeostasis. It exists in two major molecular forms: acylated (AG) and unacylated (UAG). Many studies suggest different roles for these two forms of ghrelin in energy balance regulation. In the present study, we compared the effects of acute intracerebroventricular administration of AG, UAG and their combination (AG+UAG) to young adult Wistar rats on food intake and central melanocortin system modulation. Although UAG did not affect food intake it significantly increased the number of c-Fos positive neurons in the arcuate (ARC), paraventricular (PVN) and solitary tract (NTS) nuclei. In contrast, UAG suppressed AG-induced neuronal activity in PVN and NTS. Central UAG also modulated hypothalamic expression of Mc4r and Bmp8b, which were increased and Mc3r, Pomc, Agrp and Ucp2, which were decreased. Finally, UAG, AG and combination treatments caused activation of c-Fos in POMC expressing neurons in the arcuate, substantiating a physiologic effect of these peptides on the central melanocortin system. Together, these results demonstrate that UAG can act directly to increase neuronal activity in the hypothalamus and is able to counteract AG-induced neuronal activity in the PVN and NTS. UAG also modulates expression of members of the melanocortin signaling system in the hypothalamus. In the absence of an effect on energy intake, these findings indicate that UAG could affect energy homeostasis by modulation of the central melanocortin system.
PMCID: PMC4031147  PMID: 24852945
10.  Melanocortin-4-receptors Expressed by Cholinergic Neurons Regulate Energy Balance and Glucose Homeostasis 
Cell metabolism  2011;13(2):195-204.
Melanocortin-4-receptor (MC4R) mutations cause dysregulation of energy balance and hyperinsulinemia. We have used mouse models to study the physiological roles of extrahypothalamic MC4Rs. Re-expression of MC4Rs in cholinergic neurons (ChAT-Cre, loxTB MC4R mice) modestly reduced body weight gain without altering food intake and was sufficient to normalize energy expenditure and attenuate hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia. In contrast, restoration of MC4R expression in brainstem neurons including those in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (Phox2b-Cre, loxTB MC4R mice) was sufficient to attenuate hyperinsulinemia, while the hyperglycemia and energy balance were not normalized. Additionally, hepatic insulin action and insulin mediated-suppression of hepatic glucose production were improved in ChAT-Cre, loxTB MC4R mice. These findings suggest that MC4Rs expressed by cholinergic neurons regulate energy expenditure and hepatic glucose production. Our results also provide further evidence of the dissociation in pathways mediating the effects of melanocortins on energy balance and glucose homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC3033043  PMID: 21284986
11.  Neuronal control of energy homeostasis 
FEBS letters  2007;582(1):132-141.
Neuronal control of body energy homeostasis is the key mechanism by which animals and humans regulate their long-term energy balance. Various hypothalamic neuronal circuits (which include the hypothalamic melanocortin, midbrain dopamine reward and caudal brainstem autonomic feeding systems) control energy intake and expenditure to maintain body weight within a narrow range for long periods of a life span. Numerous peripheral metabolic hormones and nutrients target these structures providing feedback signals that modify the default “settings” of neuronal activity to accomplish this balance. A number of molecular genetic tools for manipulating individual components of brain energy homeostatic machineries, in combination with anatomical, electrophysiological, pharmacological and behavioral techniques, have been developed, which provide a means for elucidating the complex molecular and cellular mechanisms of feeding behavior and metabolism. This review will highlight some of these advancements and focus on the neuronal circuitries of energy homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC4113225  PMID: 18061579
Leptin; Ghrelin; Arcuate nucleus; NPY; POMC; GABA; glutamate
12.  PTP1B and SHP2 in POMC neurons reciprocally regulate energy balance in mice 
Protein tyrosine phosphatase 1B (PTP1B) and SH2 domain–containing protein tyrosine phosphatase–2 (SHP2) have been shown in mice to regulate metabolism via the central nervous system, but the specific neurons mediating these effects are unknown. Here, we have shown that proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neuron–specific deficiency in PTP1B or SHP2 in mice results in reciprocal effects on weight gain, adiposity, and energy balance induced by high-fat diet. Mice with POMC neuron–specific deletion of the gene encoding PTP1B (referred to herein as POMC-Ptp1b–/– mice) had reduced adiposity, improved leptin sensitivity, and increased energy expenditure compared with wild-type mice, whereas mice with POMC neuron–specific deletion of the gene encoding SHP2 (referred to herein as POMC-Shp2–/– mice) had elevated adiposity, decreased leptin sensitivity, and reduced energy expenditure. POMC-Ptp1b–/– mice showed substantially improved glucose homeostasis on a high-fat diet, and hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp studies revealed that insulin sensitivity in these mice was improved on a standard chow diet in the absence of any weight difference. In contrast, POMC-Shp2–/– mice displayed impaired glucose tolerance only secondary to their increased weight gain. Interestingly, hypothalamic Pomc mRNA and α–melanocyte-stimulating hormone (αMSH) peptide levels were markedly reduced in POMC-Shp2–/– mice. These studies implicate PTP1B and SHP2 as important components of POMC neuron regulation of energy balance and point to what we believe to be a novel role for SHP2 in the normal function of the melanocortin system.
PMCID: PMC2827947  PMID: 20160350
13.  Neuropeptide Y and gamma-melanocyte stimulating hormone (γ-MSH) share a common pressor mechanism of action 
Endocrine  2009;35(3):312-324.
Central circuits known to regulate food intake and energy expenditure also affect central cardiovascular regulation. For example, both the melanocortin and neuropeptide Y (NPY) peptide families, known to regulate food intake, also produce central hypertensive effects. Members of both families share a similar C-terminal amino acid residue sequence, RF(Y) amide, a sequence distinct from that required for melanocortin receptor binding. A recently delineated family of RFamide receptors recognizes both of these C-terminal motifs. We now present evidence that an antagonist with Y1 and RFamide receptor activity, BIBO3304, will attenuate the central cardiovascular effects of both gamma-melanocyte stimulating hormone (γ-MSH) and NPY. The use of synthetic melanocortin and NPY peptide analogs excluded an interaction with melanocortin or Y family receptors. We suggest that the anatomical convergence of NPY and melanocortin neurons on cardiovascular control centers may have pathophysiological implications through a common or similar RFamide receptor(s), much as they converge on other nuclei to coordinately control energy homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC2714906  PMID: 19363600
γ-MSH; Neuropeptide Y; Hypertensive effects; Central nervous system; RFamide peptides; RFamide receptors; Y1 antagonists; Central vasopressin system
14.  Feeding Induced by Cannabinoids Is Mediated Independently of the Melanocortin System 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(5):e2202.
Cannabinoids, the active components of marijuana, stimulate appetite, and cannabinoid receptor-1 (CB1-R) antagonists suppress appetite and promote weight loss. Little is known about how CB1-R antagonists affect the central neurocircuitry, specifically the melanocortin system that regulates energy balance.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here, we show that peripherally administered CB1-R antagonist (AM251) or agonist equally suppressed or stimulated feeding respectively in Ay , which lack a functional melanocortin system, and wildtype mice, demonstrating that cannabinoid effects on feeding do not require melanocortin circuitry. CB1-R antagonist or agonist administered into the ventral tegmental area (VTA) equally suppressed or stimulated feeding respectively, in both genotypes. In addition, peripheral and central cannabinoid administration similarly induced c-Fos activation in brain sites suggesting mediation via motivational dopaminergic circuitry. Amperometry-detected increases in evoked dopamine (DA) release by the CB1-R antagonist in nucleus accumbens slices indicates that AM251 modulates DA release from VTA terminals.
Our results demonstrate that the effects of cannabinoids on energy balance are independent of hypothalamic melanocortin circuitry and is primarily driven by the reward system.
PMCID: PMC2386290  PMID: 18493584
15.  The melanocortin system and energy balance 
Peptides  2006;27(2):281-290.
The melanocortins, a family of peptides produced from the post-translational processing of pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC), regulate ingestive behavior and energy expenditure. Loss of function mutations of genes encoding POMC, or of either of two melanocortin receptors expressed in the central nervous system (MC3R, MC4R), are associated with obesity. The analyses of MC4R knockout mice indicate that activation of this receptor is involved in the regulation of appetite, the adaptive metabolic response to excess caloric consumption, and negative energy balance associated with cachexia induced by cytokines. In contrast, MC3R knockout mice exhibit a normal, or even exaggerated, response to signals that induce a state of negative energy balance. However, loss of the MC3R also results in an increase in adiposity. This article discusses the regulation of energy balance by the melanocortins. Published and newly presented data from studies analyzing of energy balance of MC3R and MC4R knockout mice indicate that increased adiposity observed in both models involves an imbalance in fat intake and oxidation.
PMCID: PMC2735083  PMID: 16434123
Melanocortin; Energy balance; MC3R
16.  GABAergic signaling by AgRP neurons prevents anorexia via a melanocortin-independent mechanism 
European journal of pharmacology  2011;660(1):21-27.
The hypothalamic arcuate nucleus contains two anatomically and functionally distinct populations of neurons – the agouti-related peptide (AgRP)- and pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC)-expressing neurons that integrate various nutritional, hormonal, and neuronal signals to regulate food intake and energy expenditure, and thereby help achieve energy homeostasis. AgRP neurons, also co-release neuropeptide Y and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to promote feeding and inhibit metabolism through at least three possible mechanisms: (1) suppression of the melanocortin signaling system through competitive binding of AgRP with the melanocortin 4 receptors; (2) neuropeptide Y-mediated inhibition of post-synaptic neurons that reside in hypothalamic nuclei; (3) GABAergic inhibition of POMC neurons in their post-synaptic targets including the parabrachial nucleus (parabrachial nucleus), a brainstem structure that relays gustatory and visceral sensory information. Acute ablation of AgRP neurons in adult mice by the action of diphtheria toxin (DT) results in precipitous reduction of food intake, and eventually leads to starvation within 6 days of DT treatment. Chronic delivery of bretazenil, a GABAA receptor partial agonist, into the parabrachial nucleus is sufficient to restore feeding and body weight when AgRP neurons are ablated, whereas chronic blockade of melanocortin 4 receptor signaling is inadequate. This review summarizes the physiological roles of a neural circuitry regulated by AgRP neurons in control of feeding behavior with particular emphasis of the GABA output to the parabrachial nucleus. We also describe a compensatory mechanism that is gradually engaged after ablation of AgRP neurons that allows mice to continue eating without them.
PMCID: PMC3108334  PMID: 21211531
Agouti-related protein; Anorexia; Benzodiazepine; Feeding behavior; Fos; Synaptic plasticity
17.  Central Nervous System Imprinting of the G Protein Gsα and Its Role in Metabolic Regulation 
Cell metabolism  2009;9(6):548-555.
Albright hereditary osteodystrophy is a monogenic obesity disorder due to heterozygous mutations of Gsα, the G protein which mediates receptor-stimulated cAMP generation, in which obesity only develops when the mutation is on the maternal allele. Likewise, mice with maternal (but not paternal) germline Gsα mutation develop obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes. These parent-of-origin effects are due to Gsα imprinting with preferential expression from the maternal allele in some tissues. As Gsα is ubiquitously expressed, the tissue involved in this metabolic imprinting effect is unknown. Using brain-specific Gsα knockout mice we show that Gsα imprinting within the central nervous system underlies these effects and that Gsα is imprinted in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus. Maternal Gsα mutation impaired melanocortin stimulation of energy expenditure but did not affect melanocortin's effect on food intake, suggesting that melanocortins may regulate energy balance in the central nervous system through both Gsα-dependent and -independent pathways.
PMCID: PMC2698878  PMID: 19490909
18.  Neuroanatomy of melanocortin-4 receptor pathway in the lateral hypothalamic area 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2012;520(18):4168-4183.
The central melanocortin system regulates body energy homeostasis including the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R). The lateral hypothalamic area (LHA) receives dense melanocortinergic inputs from the arcuate nucleus of hypothalamus and regulates multiple processes including food intake, reward behaviors and autonomic function. Using a mouse line in which green fluorescent protein (GFP) is expressed under control of MC4R gene promoter, we systemically investigated MC4R signaling in the LHA by combining double immunohistochemistry, electrophysiology and retrograde tracing techniques. We found that LHA MC4R-GFP neurons co-express neurotensin as well as the leptin receptor but not with other peptide neurotransmitters found in the LHA including orexin, melanin concentrating hormone and nesfatin-1. Furthermore, electrophysiological recording demonstrated that leptin, but not the MC4R agonist melanotan II, hyperpolarizes the majority of LHA MC4R-GFP neurons in an ATP-sensitive potassium channel-dependent manner. Retrograde tracing revealed that LHA MC4R-GFP neurons do not project to the ventral tegmental area, dorsal raphe nucleus, nucleus accumbens and spinal cord, and only limited number of neurons project to the nucleus of solitary tract and parabrachial nucleus. Our findings provide new insight into MC4R signaling in the LHA and its potential implication in homeostatic regulation of body energy balance.
PMCID: PMC3652326  PMID: 22605619
Leptin receptor; neurotensin; electrophyiosology; orexin; melanin concentrating hormone; nesfatin
19.  Melanocortin-4 receptor activation inhibits c-Jun N-terminal kinase activity and promotes insulin signaling 
Peptides  2009;30(6):1098-1104.
The melanocortin system is crucial to regulation of energy homeostasis. The melanocortin receptor type 4 (MC4R) modulates insulin signaling via effects on c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK). The melanocortin agonist NDP-MSH dose-dependently inhibited JNK activity in HEK293 cells stably expressing the human MC4R; effects were reversed by melanocortin receptor antagonist. NDP-MSH time- and dose-dependently inhibited IRS-1ser307 phosphorylation, effects also reversed by a specific melanocortin receptor antagonist. NDP-MSH augmented insulin-stimulated AKT phosphorylation in vitro. The melanocortin agonist melanotan II increased insulin-stimulated AKT phosphorylation in the rat hypothalamus in vivo. NDP-MSH increased insulin-stimulated glucose uptake in hypothalamic GT1-1 cells. The current study shows that the melanocortinergic system interacts with insulin signaling via novel effects on JNK activity.
PMCID: PMC2687409  PMID: 19463742
c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK); melanocortin receptor; AKT; insulin; insulin receptor substrate 1 (IRS-1); MT II; NDP-MSH; hypothalamus
20.  Analysis of the therapeutic functions of novel melanocortin receptor agonists in MC3R- and MC4R-deficient C57BL/6J mice 
Peptides  2009;30(10):1892-1900.
Melanocortin receptor agonists act in the brain to regulate food intake and body weight and, independently of these actions, affect insulin sensitivity. These experiments investigated the function of novel non-selective melanocortin receptor agonists (BIM-22493, BIM-22511) that cross the blood-brain barrier when administered peripherally. Treatment of diet-induced obese C57BL/6J (B6) mice with melanocortin agonists administered peripherally improved obesity, hyperinsulinemia (∼50%) and fatty liver disease. Specificity of function was determined using B6 melanocortin-3 and melanocortin-4 receptor knockout mice (MC3RKO, MC4RKO). Chow-fed MC4RKO but not MC3RKO used for these tests exhibited obesity, hyperinsulinemia and severe hepatosteatosis associated with increased expression of insulin-stimulated genes involved in lipogenesis. Reduced food intake associated with acute BIM-22493 treatment, and weight loss associated with 14d of treatment with BIM-22511, required functional MC4R but not MC3R. However, while 14d of treatment BIM-22511 did not affect body weight and even increased cumulative food intake in MC4RKO, a significant reduction (∼50%) in fasting insulin was still observed. Despite lowering insulin, chronic treatment with BIM-22511 did not improve hepatosteatosis in MC4RKO, and did not affect hepatic lipogenic gene expression. Together, these results demonstrate that peripherally administered melanocortin receptor agonists regulate body weight, liver metabolism and glucose homeostasis through independent pathways. MC4R are necessary for melanocortin agonist-induced weight loss and improvements in liver metabolism, but are not required for improvements in hyperinsulinemia. Agonists with activity at MC4R improve glucose homeostasis at least partially by causing weight loss, however other melanocortin receptors may have potential for treating aberrations in glucose homeostasis associated with obesity.
PMCID: PMC2755620  PMID: 19646498
Obesity; Diabetes; Insulin; Melanocortins; Proopiomelanocortin; melanocyte-stimulating hormones
21.  Pro-opiomelanocortin Gene Transfer to the NTS but not ARC Ameliorates Chronic Diet-Induced Obesity 
Neuroscience  2010;169(4):1662-1671.
Short-term pharmacological melanocortin activation deters diet-induced obesity (DIO) effectively in rodents. However, whether central pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) gene transfer targeted to the hypothalamus or hindbrain nucleus of the solitary track (NTS) can combat chronic dietary obesity has not been investigated. Four-week-old Sprague Dawley rats were fed a high fat diet for five months, and then injected with either the POMC or control vector into the hypothalamus or NTS, and body weight and food intake recorded for 68 days. Insulin sensitivity, glucose metabolism and adrenal indicators of central sympathetic activation were measured, and voluntary wheel running (WR) assessed. Whereas the NTS POMC-treatment decreased cumulative food consumption and caused sustained weight reduction over 68 days, the hypothalamic POMC-treatment did not alter cumulative food intake and produced weight loss only in the first 25 days. At death, only the NTS-POMC rats had a significant decrease in fat mass. They also displayed enhanced glucose tolerance, lowered fasting insulin and increased QUICK value, and elevated adrenal indicators of central sympathetic activation. Moreover, the NTS-POMC animals exhibited a near 20% increase in distance ran relative to the respective controls, but the ARC-POMC rats did not. In conclusion, POMC gene transfer to the NTS caused modest anorexia, persistent weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, and increased propensity for WR in DIO rats. These metabolic improvements may involve stimulation of energy expenditure via centrally regulated sympathetic outflow. The similar POMC treatment in the hypothalamus had minimal long-term physiological or metabolic impact. Thus, melanocortin activation in the brainstem NTS region effectively ameliorates chronic dietary obesity whilst that in the hypothalamus fails to do so.
PMCID: PMC2924636  PMID: 20538045
ARC; NTS; dietary obesity; voluntary wheel running; melanocortin
22.  Melanocortin Control of Energy Balance: Evidence from Rodent Models 
Regulation of energy balance is extremely complex, and involves multiple systems of hormones, neurotransmitters, receptors, and intracellular signals. As data have accumulated over the last two decades, the CNS melanocortin system is now identified as a prominent integrative network of energy balance controls in the mammalian brain. Here, we will review findings from rat and mouse models, which have provided an important framework in which to study melanocortin function. Perhaps most importantly, this review attempts for the first time to summarize recent advances in our understanding of the intracellular signaling pathways thought to mediate the action of melanocortin neurons and peptides in control of long term energy balance. Special attention will be paid to the roles of MC4R/MC3R, as well as downstream neurotransmitters within forebrain and hindbrain structures that illustrate the distributed control of melanocortin signaling in energy balance. In addition, distinctions and controversy between rodent species will be discussed.
PMCID: PMC3135719  PMID: 21553232
melanocortin; POMC; ARC; NTS; leptin; MC4R; MC3R; obesity
23.  Recent advances in pancreatic endocrine and exocrine secretion 
Purpose of review
This review presents recent advancements in the mechanisms by which integrated signaling mechanisms elicit and regulate pancreatic endocrine and exocrine secretion.
Recent findings
Cholecystokinin (CCK) can stimulate exocrine secretion by acting directly on neurons located in the dorsal motor of the vagus or indirectly by acting on pancreatic stellate cells. The importance of small GTPases such as RhoA and Rac1 in CCK-induced pancreatic secretion is also described. Ghrelin attenuates insulin secretion through the AMP-activated protein kinase–uncoupling protein 2 pathway. An exciting new report describes that leptin can influence insulin release by osteoclastin, a hormone produced by osteoblasts. This finding adds a new layer of complexity in the regulation of insulin secretion with implications for glucose and energy homeostasis. In addition, leptin also mediates insulin secretion through the sympathetic system and via pro-opiomelanocortin neurons, which could serve as the cross-road for leptin and melanocortin signaling pathways. Recent reports on the action of numerous other regulators such as atrial natriuretic peptide, neurotensin, and orexin B are also discussed.
The pancreas is an extremely complex gland. Elucidation of the secretory and regulatory pathways that control pancreatic secretion will aid in the development of treatment for diseases such as pancreatitis, diabetes, and obesity.
PMCID: PMC3736574  PMID: 21778879
endocrine; exocrine; pancreas; regulation; secretion
24.  The Nutritional Induction of COUP-TFII Gene Expression in Ventromedial Hypothalamic Neurons Is Mediated by the Melanocortin Pathway 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13464.
The nuclear receptor chicken ovalbumin upstream promoter transcription factor II (COUP-TFII) is an important coordinator of glucose homeostasis. We report, for the first time, a unique differential regulation of its expression by the nutritional status in the mouse hypothalamus compared to peripheral tissues.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamps and insulinopenic mice, we show that insulin upregulates its expression in the hypothalamus. Immunofluorescence studies demonstrate that COUP-TFII gene expression is restricted to a subpopulation of ventromedial hypothalamic neurons expressing the melanocortin receptor. In GT1-7 hypothalamic cells, the MC4-R agonist MTII leads to a dose dependant increase of COUP-TFII gene expression secondarily to a local increase in cAMP concentrations. Transfection experiments, using a COUP-TFII promoter containing a functional cAMP responsive element, suggest a direct transcriptional activation by cAMP. Finally, we show that the fed state or intracerebroventricular injections of MTII in mice induce an increased hypothalamic COUP-TFII expression associated with a decreased hepatic and pancreatic COUP-TFII expression.
These observations strongly suggest that hypothalamic COUP-TFII gene expression could be a central integrator of insulin and melanocortin signaling pathway within the ventromedial hypothalamus. COUP-TFII could play a crucial role in brain integration of circulating signal of hunger and satiety involved in energy balance regulation.
PMCID: PMC2956692  PMID: 20976162
25.  Genetic and pharmacologic blockade of central melanocortin signaling attenuates cardiac cachexia in rodent models of heart failure 
The Journal of Endocrinology  2010;206(1):121-130.
The central melanocortin system plays a key role in the regulation of food intake and energy homeostasis. We investigated whether genetic or pharmacologic blockade of central melanocortin signaling attenuates cardiac cachexia in mice and rats with heart failure. Permanent ligation of the left coronary artery (myocardial infarction (MI)) or sham operation was performed in wild-type (WT) or melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) knockout mice. Eight weeks after surgery, WT-Sham mice had significant increases in lean body mass (LBM; P<0·05) and fat mass (P<0·05), whereas WT-MI did not gain significant amounts of LBM or fat mass. Resting basal metabolic rate (BMR) was significantly lower in WT-Sham mice compared to WT-MI mice (P<0·001). In contrast, both MC4-Sham and MC4-MI mice gained significant amounts of LBM (P<0·05) and fat mass (P<0·05) over the study period. There was no significant difference in the BMR between MC4-Sham and MC4-MI mice. In the second experiment, rats received aortic bands or sham operations, and after recovery received i.c.v. injections of either artificial cerebrospinal fluid (aCSF) or the melanocortin antagonist agouti-related protein (AGRP) for 2 weeks. Banded rats receiving AGRP gained significant amount of LBM (P<0·05) and fat mass (P<0·05) over the treatment period, whereas banded rats receiving aCSF did not gain significant amounts of LBM or fat mass. These results demonstrated that genetic and pharmacologic blockade of melanocortin signaling attenuated the metabolic manifestations of cardiac cachexia in murine and rat models of heart failure.
PMCID: PMC2887273  PMID: 20371568

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