Energy and glucose homeostasis are regulated by central serotonin 2C receptors. These receptors are attractive pharmacological targets for the treatment of obesity; however, the identity of the serotonin 2C receptor–expressing neurons that mediate the effects of serotonin and serotonin 2C receptor agonists on energy and glucose homeostasis are unknown. Here, we show that mice lacking serotonin 2C receptors (Htr2c) specifically in pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons had normal body weight but developed glucoregulatory defects including hyperinsulinemia, hyperglucagonemia, hyperglycemia, and insulin resistance. Moreover, these mice did not show anorectic responses to serotonergic agents that suppress appetite and developed hyperphagia and obesity when they were fed a high-fat/high-sugar diet. A requirement of serotonin 2C receptors in POMC neurons for the maintenance of normal energy and glucose homeostasis was further demonstrated when Htr2c loss was induced in POMC neurons in adult mice using a tamoxifen-inducible POMC-cre system. These data demonstrate that serotonin 2C receptor–expressing POMC neurons are required to control energy and glucose homeostasis and implicate POMC neurons as the target for the effect of serotonin 2C receptor agonists on weight-loss induction and improved glycemic control.
Melanocortin 4 receptors (Mc4rs) are expressed by extra-hypothalamic neurons including cholinergic autonomic pre-ganglionic neurons. However, whether Mc4rs in these neurons are required to control energy and glucose homeostasis is unclear. Here we report that Mc4rs in sympathetic, but not parasympathetic, pre-ganglionic neurons are required to regulate energy expenditure and body weight including brown and white adipose tissue thermogenic responses to diet and cold exposure. In addition, deletion of Mc4rs in both sympathetic and parasympathetic cholinergic neurons impairs glucose homeostasis.
Identifying neuronal molecular markers with restricted patterns of expression is a crucial step in dissecting the numerous pathways and functions of the brain. While the dorsomedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (DMH) has been implicated in a host of physiological processes, current functional studies have been limited by the lack of molecular markers specific for DMH. Identification of such markers would facilitate the development of mouse models with DMH-specific genetic manipulations. Here we used a combination of laser-capture microdissection (LCM) and gene expression profiling to identify genes that are highly expressed within the DMH relative to adjacent hypothalamic regions. Six of the most highly expressed of these genes, Gpr50, 4930511J11Rik, Pcsk5, Grp, Sulf1, and Rorβ, were further characterized by real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis and in situ hybridization histochemistry. The genes identified in this article will provide the basis for future gene-targeted approaches for studying DMH function.
DMH; LCM; hypothalamus
Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and obesity-related illnesses have become a leading preventable cause of death. Childhood obesity is also growing in frequency, and the impact of a lifetime spent in the overweight state is only beginning to emerge in the literature. In this issue of the JCI, Bumaschny et al. used a genetic mouse model to investigate the self-perpetuating nature of obesity and shed some light on why it can become increasingly difficult to lose weight over time.
d-Fenfluramine (d-Fen) increases serotonin (5-HT) content in the synaptic cleft and exerts anorexigenic effects in animals and humans. However, the neural circuits that mediate these effects are not fully identified. To address this issue, we assessed the efficacy of d-Fen-induced hypophagia in mouse models with manipulations of several genes in selective populations of neurons. Expectedly, we found that global deletion of 5-HT 2C receptors (5-HT2CRs) significantly attenuated d-Fen-induced anorexia. These anorexigenic effects were restored in mice with 5-HT2CRs expressed only in pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons. Further, we found that deletion of melanocortin 4 receptors (MC4Rs), a downstream target of POMC neurons, abolished anorexigenic effects of d-Fen. Reexpression of MC4Rs only in SIM1 neurons in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus and neurons in the amygdala was sufficient to restore the hypophagic property of d-Fen. Thus, our results identify a neurochemically defined neural circuit through which d-Fen influences appetite and thereby indicate that this 5-HT2CR/POMC-MC4R/SIM1 circuit may yield a more refined target to exploit for weight loss.
Serotonin 2C receptors (5-HT2CRs) expressed by pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons of hypothalamic arcuate nucleus regulate food intake, energy homeostasis and glucose metabolism. However, the cellular mechanisms underlying the effects of 5-HT to regulate POMC neuronal activity via 5-HT2CRs have not yet been identified. In the present study, we found the putative transient receptor potential C (TRPC) channels mediate the activation of a subpopulation of POMC neurons by mCPP (a 5-HT2CR agonist). Interestingly, mCPP-activated POMC neurons were found to be a distinct population from those activated by leptin. Together, our data suggest that 5-HT2CR and leptin receptors are expressed by distinct subpopulations of arcuate POMC neurons and that both 5-HT and leptin exert their actions in POMC neurons via TRPC channels.
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.
leptin; insulin; serotonin; obesity; diabetes; patch-clamp
The transcription factor FOXO1 plays a central role in metabolic homeostasis by regulating leptin and insulin activity in many cell types, including neurons. However, the neurons mediating these effects and the identity of the molecular targets through which FOXO1 regulates metabolism remain to be defined. Here, we show that the ventral medial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMH) is a key site of FOXO1 action. We found that mice lacking FOXO1 in steroidogenic factor 1 (SF-1) neurons of the VMH are lean due to increased energy expenditure. The mice also failed to appropriately suppress energy expenditure in response to fasting. Furthermore, these mice displayed improved glucose tolerance due to increased insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle and heart. Gene expression profiling and sequence analysis revealed several pathways regulated by FOXO1. In addition, we identified the nuclear receptor SF-1 as a direct FOXO1 transcriptional target in the VMH. Collectively, our data suggest that the transcriptional networks modulated by FOXO1 in VMH neurons are key components in the regulation of energy balance and glucose homeostasis.
The ventral medial hypothalamic nucleus (VMH) regulates food intake and body weight homeostasis. The nuclear receptor NR5A1 (Steroidogenic factor 1; SF-1) is a transcription factor whose expression is highly restricted in the VMH and is required for the development of the nucleus. Neurons expressing SF-1 in the VMH have emerged as playing important roles in the regulation of body weight and energy homeostasis. Many of these studies have used site-specific gene KO approaches, providing insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying the regulation of energy homeostasis by the SF-1 neurons of the VMH. In this brief review, we will focus on recent studies defining the molecular mechanisms regulating energy homeostasis and body weight in the VMH, particularly stressing the SF-1 expressing neurons.
ARH, arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus; Diet-induced obesity; DMH, dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus; Energy homeostasis; SF-1, steroidogenic factor 1; VMH, ventral medial nucleus of the hypothalamus
Leptin action on its receptor (LEPR) stimulates energy expenditure and reduces food intake, thereby lowering body weight. One leptin-sensitive target cell mediating these effects on energy balance is the proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neuron. Recent evidence suggests that the action of leptin on POMC neurons regulates glucose homeostasis independently of its effects on energy balance. Here, we have dissected the physiological impact of direct leptin action on POMC neurons using a mouse model in which endogenous LEPR expression was prevented by a LoxP-flanked transcription blocker (loxTB), but could be reactivated by Cre recombinase. Mice homozygous for the LeprloxTB allele were obese and exhibited defects characteristic of LEPR deficiency. Reexpression of LEPR only in POMC neurons in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus did not reduce food intake, but partially normalized energy expenditure and modestly reduced body weight. Despite the moderate effects on energy balance and independent of changes in body weight, restoring LEPR in POMC neurons normalized blood glucose and ameliorated hepatic insulin resistance, hyperglucagonemia, and dyslipidemia. Collectively, these results demonstrate that direct leptin action on POMC neurons does not reduce food intake, but is sufficient to normalize glucose and glucagon levels in mice otherwise lacking LEPR.
Cloned in 1994, the ob gene encodes the protein hormone leptin, which is produced and secreted by white adipose tissue. Since its discovery, leptin has been found to have profound effects on behavior, metabolic rate, endocrine axes, and glucose fluxes. Leptin deficiency in mice and humans causes morbid obesity, diabetes, and various neuroendocrine anomalies, and replacement leads to decreased food intake, normalized glucose homeostasis, and increased energy expenditure. Here, we provide an update on the most current understanding of leptin-sensitive neural pathways in terms of both anatomical organization and physiological roles.
Mice lacking 5-HT 2C receptors (5-HT2CRs) displayed insulin resistance in the liver, a phenotype normalized by re-expression of 5-HT2CRs only in pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons. 5-HT2CR deficiency also abolished anti-diabetic effects of mCPP (a 5-HT2CR agonist) while such effects were restored in mice with 5-HT2CRs re-expressed in POMC neurons. Our findings demonstrated that 5-HT2CRs expressed by POMC neurons are physiologically relevant regulators of insulin sensitivity and glucose homeostasis in the liver.
Leptin is an adipose-derived hormone that signals to inform the brain of nutrient status; loss of leptin signaling results in marked hyperphagia and obesity. Recent work has identified several groups of neurons that contribute to the effects of leptin to regulate energy balance, but leptin receptors are distributed throughout the brain, and the function of leptin signaling in discrete neuronal populations outside of the hypothalamus has not been defined. In the current study, we produced mice in which the long form of the leptin receptor (Lepr) was selectively ablated using Cre-recombinase selectively expressed in the hindbrain under control of the paired-like homeobox 2b (Phox2b) promoter (Phox2b Cre Leprflox/flox mice). In these mice, Lepr was deleted from glucagon-like 1 peptide–expressing neurons resident in the nucleus of the solitary tract. Phox2b Cre Leprflox/flox mice were hyperphagic, displayed increased food intake after fasting, and gained weight at a faster rate than wild-type controls. Paradoxically, Phox2b Cre Leprflox/flox mice also exhibited an increased metabolic rate independent of a change in locomotor activity that was dependent on food intake, and glucose homeostasis was normal. Together, these data support a physiologically important role of direct leptin action in the hindbrain.
The PI3K-Akt-FoxO1 pathway contributes to the actions of insulin and leptin in several cell types, including neurons in the central nervous system. However, identifying these actions in chemically identified neurons has proven difficult. To address this problem, we have developed a reporter mouse for monitoring PI3K-Akt signaling in specific populations of neurons, based on FoxO1 nucleocytoplasmic shuttling. The reporter, FoxO1 fused to GFP (FoxO1GFP), is expressed under the control of a ubiquitous promoter that is silenced by a loxP flanked transcriptional blocker. Thus, the expression of the reporter in selected cells is dependent on the action Cre-recombinase. Using this model, we found that insulin treatment resulted in the nuclear exclusion of FoxO1GFP within POMC and AgRP neurons in a dose- and time-dependent manner. FoxO1GFP nuclear exclusion was also observed in POMC neurons following in vivo administration of insulin. In addition, leptin induced transient nuclear export of FoxO1GFP in POMC neurons in a dose dependent fashion. Finally, insulin-induced nuclear export was impaired in POMC neurons by pretreatment with free fatty acids, a paradigm known to induce insulin resistance in peripheral insulin target tissues. Thus, our FoxO1GFP mouse provides a tool for monitoring the status of PI3K-Akt signaling in a cell-specific manner under physiological and pathophysiological conditions.
FoxO1; POMC neurons; AgRP neurons; insulin; Free fatty acids; insulin resistance
Normal food intake and body weight homeostasis require the direct action of leptin on hypothalamic proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons. It has been proposed that leptin action requires PI3K activity. We therefore assessed the contribution of PI3K signaling to leptin’s effects on POMC neurons and organismal energy balance. Leptin caused a rapid depolarization of POMC neurons and an increase in action potential frequency in patch-clamp recordings of hypothalamic slices. Pharmacologic inhibition of PI3K prevented this depolarization and increased POMC firing rate, indicating a PI3K-dependent mechanism of leptin action. Mice with genetically disrupted PI3K signaling in POMC cells failed to undergo POMC depolarization or increased firing frequency in response to leptin. Insulin’s ability to hyperpolarize POMC neurons was also abolished in these mice. Moreover, targeted disruption of PI3K blunted the suppression of feeding elicited by central leptin administration. Despite these differences, mice with impaired PI3K signaling in POMC neurons exhibited normal long-term body weight regulation. Collectively, these results suggest that PI3K signaling in POMC neurons is essential for leptin-induced activation and insulin-induced inhibition of POMC cells and for the acute suppression of food intake elicited by leptin, but is not a major contributor to the regulation of long-term organismal energy homeostasis.
AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) has emerged as a metabolic “fuel gauge,” which oscillates between anabolic and catabolic processes that ultimately influence energy balance. A study in this issue of the JCI by Claret et al. now extends the role of AMPK in medial basal hypothalamic neurons (see the related article beginning on page 2325). These findings maintain AMPK signaling as a common cellular mechanism in proopiomelanocortin and neuropeptide Y/agouti-related protein neurons and links hypothalamic AMPK to coordinated energy and glucose homeostasis.
Ghrelin is the endogenous ligand for the growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHSR; ghrelin receptor). Since its discovery, accumulating evidence has suggested that ghrelin may play a role in signaling and reversing states of energy insufficiency. For example, ghrelin levels rise following food deprivation, and ghrelin administration stimulates feeding and increases body weight and adiposity. However, recent loss-of-function studies have raised questions regarding the physiological significance of ghrelin in regulating these processes. Here, we present results of a study using a novel GHSR-null mouse model, in which ghrelin administration fails to acutely stimulate food intake or activate arcuate nucleus neurons. We show that when fed a high-fat diet, both female and male GHSR-null mice eat less food, store less of their consumed calories, preferentially utilize fat as an energy substrate, and accumulate less body weight and adiposity than control mice. Similar effects on body weight and adiposity were also observed in female, but not male, GHSR-null mice fed standard chow. GHSR deletion also affected locomotor activity and levels of glycemia. These findings support the hypothesis that ghrelin-responsive pathways are an important component of coordinated body weight control. Moreover, our data suggest that ghrelin signaling is required for development of the full phenotype of diet-induced obesity.
Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) released from the gut functions as an incretin that stimulates insulin secretion. GLP-1 is also a brain neuropeptide that controls feeding and drinking behavior and gastric emptying and elicits neuroendocrine responses including development of conditioned taste aversion. Although GLP-1 receptor (GLP-1R) agonists are under development for the treatment of diabetes, GLP-1 administration may increase blood pressure and heart rate in vivo. We report here that centrally and peripherally administered GLP-1R agonists dose-dependently increased blood pressure and heart rate. GLP-1R activation induced c-fos expression in the adrenal medulla and neurons in autonomic control sites in the rat brain, including medullary catecholamine neurons providing input to sympathetic preganglionic neurons. Furthermore, GLP-1R agonists rapidly activated tyrosine hydroxylase transcription in brainstem catecholamine neurons. These findings suggest that the central GLP-1 system represents a regulator of sympathetic outflow leading to downstream activation of cardiovascular responses in vivo.
Obesity is associated with increased blood pressure (BP), which in turn increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. We found that the increase in leptin levels seen in diet-induced obesity (DIO) drives an increase in BP in rodents, an effect that was not seen in animals deficient in leptin or leptin receptors (LepR). Furthermore, humans with loss-of-function mutations in leptin and the LepR have low BP despite severe obesity. Leptin’s effects on BP are mediated by neuronal circuits in the dorsomedial hypothalamus (DMH), as blocking leptin with a specific antibody, antagonist, or inhibition of the activity of LepR-expressing neurons in the DMH caused a rapid reduction of BP in DIO mice, independent of changes in weight. Re-expression of LepRs in the DMH of DIO LepR-deficient mice caused an increase in BP. These studies demonstrate that leptin couples changes in weight to changes in BP in mammalian species.
•Leptin is the link between obesity and increased blood pressure•Leptin acts through the dorsomedial hypothalamus to increase blood pressure•Blockade of leptin signaling reduces blood pressure in obese mice•Humans with defects in leptin signaling are protected from obesity hypertension
Leptin is found to be the link between obesity and increased blood pressure. Blocking leptin action reduces blood pressure in obese mice with clinical studies in humans, suggesting that defects in leptin signaling may protect against hypertension associated with obesity.
Chronic low-grade inflammation is a hallmark of obesity and thought to contribute to the development of obesity-related insulin resistance. Toll-like receptor 4 (Tlr4) is a key mediator of pro-inflammatory responses. Mice lacking Tlr4s are protected from diet-induced insulin resistance and inflammation; however which Tlr4 expressing cells mediate this effect is unknown. Here we show that mice deficient in hepatocyte Tlr4 (Tlr4LKO) exhibit improved glucose tolerance, enhanced insulin sensitivity, and ameliorated hepatic steatosis despite the development of obesity after a high fat diet (HFD) challenge. Furthermore, Tlr4LKO mice have reduced macrophage content in white adipose tissue, as well as decreased tissue and circulating inflammatory markers. In contrast, the loss of Tlr4 activity in myeloid cells has little effect on insulin sensitivity. Collectively, these data indicate that the activation of Tlr4 on hepatocytes contributes to obesity-associated inflammation and insulin resistance, and suggest that targeting hepatocyte Tlr4 might be a useful therapeutic strategy for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
Polymorphisms of the gene TCF7L2 (transcription factor 7-like 2) are strongly associated with the development and progression of type 2 diabetes. TCF7L2 is important in the development of peripheral organs such as adipocytes, pancreas, and the intestine. However, very little is known about its expression elsewhere. In this study we used in situ hybridization histochemistry to show that TCF7L2 has a unique expression pattern in the mouse brain. TCF7L2 is expressed in two distinct populations. First, it is highly ex pressed in thalamic and tectal structures. Additionally, TCF7L2 mRNA is expressed at moderate to low levels in specific cells of the hypothalamus, preoptic nucleus, and circumventricular organs. Collectively, these patterns of expression suggest that TCF7L2 has distinct functions within the brain, with a general role in the development and maintenance of thalamic and midbrain neurons, and then a distinct role in autonomic homeostasis.
TCF-4; diabetes; WNT
The dogma that life without insulin is incompatible has recently been challenged by results showing viability of insulin-deficient rodents undergoing leptin mono-therapy. Yet, the mechanisms underlying these actions of leptin are unknown. Here, the metabolic outcomes of intracerebroventricular (icv) administration of leptin in mice devoid of insulin and lacking or re-expressing leptin receptors (LEPRs) only in selected neuronal groups were assessed. Our results demonstrate that concomitant re-expression of LEPRs only in hypothalamic γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic and pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons is sufficient to fully mediate the life-saving and anti-diabetic actions of leptin in insulin deficiency. Our analyses indicate that enhanced glucose uptake by brown adipose tissue and soleus muscle, as well as improved hepatic metabolism, underlie these effects of leptin. Collectively, our data elucidate a hypothalamic-dependent pathway enabling life without insulin and hence pave the way for developing better treatments for diseases of insulin deficiency.
Melanocortin receptors are critical modulators of energy balance and glucose homeostasis. Companion studies published in Science (Asai et al., 2013; Sebag et al., 2013) establish a role for melanocortin receptor accessory protein 2 (Mrap2) in regulating melanocortin receptor activity and in the development of obesity in zebrafish, rodents, and humans.
Neurons within the central nervous system receive humoral and central (neurotransmitter or neuropeptide) signals that ultimately regulate ingestive behavior and metabolism. Recent advances in mouse genetics combined with neuroanatomical and electrophysiological techniques have contributed to a better understanding of these central mechanisms. This review integrates recently defined cellular mechanisms and neural circuits relevant to the regulation of feeding behavior, energy expenditure, and glucose homeostasis by metabolic signals.
electrophysiology; melanocortin receptor; agouti-related peptide; neuropeptide Y receptor; GABA; glutamate
Accumulating evidence demonstrates that acetylcholine can directly modulate immune function in peripheral tissues including the spleen and gastrointestinal tract. However, the anatomical relationships between the peripheral cholinergic system and immune cells located in these lymphoid tissues remain unclear due to inherent technical difficulties with currently available neuroanatomical methods. In this study, mice with specific expression of the tdTomato fluorescent protein in choline acetyltransferase (ChAT)-expressing cells were used to label preganglionic and postganglionic cholinergic neurons and their projections to lymphoid tissues. Notably, our anatomical observations revealed an abundant innervation in the intestinal lamina propria of the entire gastrointestinal tract principally originating from cholinergic enteric neurons. The aforementioned innervation frequently approached macrophages, plasma cells, and lymphocytes located in the lamina propria and, to a lesser extent, lymphocytes in the interfollicular areas of Peyer’s patches. In addition to the above innervation, we observed labeled epithelial cells in the gallbladder and lower intestines, as well as Microfold cells and T-cells within Peyer’s patches. In contrast, we found only a sparse innervation in the spleen consisting of neuronal fibers of spinal origin present around arterioles and in lymphocyte-containing areas of the white pulp. Lastly, a small population of ChAT-expressing lymphocytes was identified in the spleen including both T- and B-cells. In summary, this study describes the variety of cholinergic neuronal and nonneuronal cells in a position to modulate gastrointestinal and splenic immunity in the mouse.
anterograde tracing; enteric; genetic; immunity; parasympathetic