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.
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 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
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.
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 orexin/hypocretin system has the potential to significantly modulate affect, based on both the neuroanatomical projection patterns of these neurons and on the sites of orexin receptor expression. However, there is little data supporting the role of specific orexin receptors in the modulation of depression-like behavior. Here we report behavioral profiling of mice after genetic or pharmacologic inhibition of hcrtr1 and 2 receptor signaling. Hcrtr1 null mice displayed a significant reduction in behavioral despair in the forced swim test and tail suspension test. Wild-type mice treated with the hcrtr1 antagonist SB-334867 also displayed a similar reduction in behavioral despair. No difference in anxiety-like behavior was noted following hcrtr1 deletion. In contrast, hcrtr2-null mice displayed an increase in behavioral despair with no effect on measures of anxiety. These studies suggest that the balance of orexin action at either the hcrtr1 or the hcrtr2 receptor produces an anti-depressant or pro-depressant like effect, depending on the receptor subtype activated.
Orexin; Depression; Anxiety
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.
Studies have suggested that manipulations of the central melanocortin circuitry by pharmacological agents produce robust effects on the regulation of body weight and glucose homeostasis. In this review, we discuss recent findings from genetic mouse models that have further established the physiological relevance of this circuitry in the context of glucose and energy balance. In addition, we will discuss distinct neuronal populations that respond to central melanocortins to regulate food intake, energy expenditure, insulin sensitivity, and insulin secretion, respectively. Finally, multiple hormonal and neural cues (e.g., leptin, estrogen, and serotonin) that use the melanocortin systems to regulate energy and glucose homeostasis will be reviewed. These findings suggest that targeting the specific branches of melanocortin circuits may be potential avenues to combat the current obesity and diabetes epidemics.
melanocortins; leptin; estrogen; serotonin; body weight
Estrogens regulate body weight and reproduction primarily through actions on estrogen receptor-α (ERα). However, ERα-expressing cells mediating these effects are not identified. We demonstrate that brain-specific deletion of ERα in female mice causes abdominal obesity stemming from both hyperphagia and hypometabolism. Hypometabolism and abdominal obesity, but not hyperphagia, are recapitulated in female mice lacking ERα in hypothalamic steroidogenic factor-1 (SF1) neurons. In contrast, deletion of ERα in hypothalamic pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons leads to hyperphagia, without directly influencing energy expenditure or fat distribution. Further, simultaneous deletion of ERα from both SF1 and POMC neurons causes hypometabolism, hyperphagia and increased visceral adiposity. Additionally, female mice lacking ERα in SF1 neurons develop anovulation and infertility, while POMC-specific deletion of ERα inhibits negative feedback regulation of estrogens and impairs fertility in females. These results indicate that estrogens act on distinct hypothalamic ERα neurons to regulate different aspects of energy homeostasis and reproduction.
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.
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.
Calorie restriction induces long-term changes in motivation to eat highly palatable food, and in body weight regulation, through an unknown mechanism.
Following a period of calorie restriction and re-feeding, mice were assessed by behavioral and metabolic studies and for levels of the transcription factor ΔFosB. ΔFosB levels were then increased specifically in nucleus accumbens (NAc) using viral-mediated gene transfer, and behavioral and metabolic studies were conducted.
We show that accumulation of ΔFosB in the NAc shell after calorie restriction in mice corresponds to a period of increased motivation for high fat reward and reduced energy expenditure. Furthermore, ΔFosB over-expression in this region increases instrumental responding for a high fat reward via an orexin-dependent mechanism, while also decreasing energy expenditure and promoting adiposity.
These results suggest that ΔFosB signaling in NAc mediates adaptive responses to calorie restriction.
Feeding; Metabolism; Nucleus Accumbens; Appetite; Orexin
SF-1-expressing neurons of the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) control energy homeostasis, but the role of insulin action in these cells remains undefined. We show that insulin activates PI3-kinase (PI3k) signaling in SF-1 neurons and reduces firing frequency in these cells via activation of KATP-channels. These effects are abrogated in mice with insulin receptor (IR) deficiency restricted to SF-1 neurons (SF-1ΔIR-mice). While body weight and glucose homeostasis remain unaltered in SF-1ΔIR-mice under normal chow diet, they exhibit protection from diet-induced leptin resistance, weight gain, adiposity and impaired glucose tolerance. High-fat feeding activates PI3k signaling in SF-1 neurons of control mice, and this response is attenuated in the VMH of SF-1ΔIR-mice. Mimicking diet-induced overactivation of PI3k signaling by disruption of the PIP3-phosphatase PTEN leads to increased body weight and hyperphagia under normal chow diet. Collectively, our experiments reveal a critical role for HFD-induced, insulin-dependent PI3k activation in VMH neurons to control energy homeostasis.
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.
Evidence suggests that the role played by the adipocyte-derived hormone leptin in female reproductive physiologyis mediated in part by neurons located within the ventral premammillary nucleus (PMV). Leptin activates PMV neurons; however, the intracellular signaling pathway and channel(s) involved remain undefined. Notably, leptin's excitatory and inhibitory effects within hypothalamic and brainstem nuclei share the intracellular signaling cascade phosphoinositide 3 kinase (PI3K). Therefore, we assessed whether PI3K signaling is required for the acute effect of leptin to alter cellular activity of PMV neurons that express leptin receptors (LepR PMV neurons). Leptin caused a rapid depolarization in the majority of LepR PMV neurons in patch-clamp recordings of hypothalamic slices, while a subset of LepR PMV neurons were hyperpolarized in response to leptin. Data were obtained from both male and female mice and results demonstrate that the acute effect of leptin on LepR PMV neurons was identical for both sexes. Pharmacological inhibition of PI3K prevented the acute leptin-induced change in neuronal activity of LepR PMV neurons, indicating a PI3K-dependent mechanism of leptin action. Similarly, mice with genetically disrupted PI3K signaling in LepR PMV neurons failed to alter cellular activity in response to leptin. Moreover, the leptin-induced depolarization was dependent on a putative TRPC channel. In contrast, the leptin-induced-hyperpolarization required the activation of a putative Katp channel. Collectively, these results suggest that PI3K signaling in LepR PMV neurons is essential for leptin-induced alteration in cellular activity, and these data may suggest a cellular correlate in which leptin contributes to the initiation of reproductive development.
Nav1.8 is a tetrodotoxin-resistant sodium channel present in large subsets of peripheral sensory neurons, including both spinal and vagal afferents. In spinal afferents, Nav1.8 plays a key role in signaling different types of pain. Little is known, however, about the exact identity and role of Nav1.8-expressing vagal neurons. Here we generated mice with restricted expression of tdTomato fluorescent protein in all Nav1.8-expressing afferent neurons. As a result, intense fluorescence was visible in the cell bodies, central relays, and sensory endings of these neurons, revealing the full extent of their innervation sites in thoracic and abdominal viscera. For instance, vagal and spinal Nav1.8-expressing endings were seen clearly within the gastrointestinal mucosa and myenteric plexus, respectively. In the gastrointestinal muscle wall, labeled endings included a small subset of vagal tension receptors but not any stretch receptors. We also examined the detailed inner-vation of key metabolic tissues such as liver and pancreas and evaluated the anatomical relationship of Nav1.8-expressing vagal afferents with select enteroendocrine cells (i.e., ghrelin, glucagon, GLP-1). Specifically, our data revealed the presence of Nav1.8-expressing vagal afferents in several metabolic tissues and varying degrees of proximity between Nav1.8-expressing mucosal afferents and enteroendocrine cells, including apparent neuroendocrine apposition. In summary, this study demonstrates the power and versatility of the Cre-LoxP technology to trace identified visceral afferents, and our data suggest a previously unrecognized role for Nav1.8-expressing vagal neurons in gastrointestinal functions.
vagotomy; autonomic nervous system; transgenic; visceral pain; obesity; connections
The hormones leptin and ghrelin act in apposition to one another in the regulation of body weight homeostasis. Interestingly, both leptin receptor expression and ghrelin receptor expression have been observed within many of the same nuclei of the central nervous system (CNS), suggesting that these hormones may act on a common population of neurons to produce changes in food intake and energy expenditure. In the present study we explored the extent of this putative direct leptin and ghrelin interaction in the CNS and addressed the question of whether a loss of ghrelin signaling would affect sensitivity to leptin. Using histological mapping of leptin receptor and ghrelin receptor expression, we found that cells containing both leptin receptors and ghrelin receptors are mainly located in the medial part of the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus. In contrast, coexpression was much less extensive elsewhere in the brain. To assess the functional consequences of this observed receptor distribution, we explored the effect of ghrelin receptor deletion on leptin sensitivity. In particular, the responses of ad libitum-fed, diet-induced obese and fasted mice to the anorectic actions of leptin were examined. Surprisingly, we found that deletion of the ghrelin receptor did not affect the sensitivity to exogenously administrated leptin. Thus, we conclude that ghrelin and leptin act largely on distinct neuronal populations and that ghrelin receptor deficiency does not affect sensitivity to the anorexigenic and body weight-lowering actions of leptin.
GHSR; LepRb; obesity; food intake; arcuate nucleus
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.
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.
Tracing the axonal projections of selected neurons is labor intensive and inherently limited by currently available neuroanatomical methods. We developed an adeno-associated virus (AAV) that can be used for efficiently tracing identified neuronal populations. The virus encodes a humanized Renilla Green Fluorescent Protein (hrGFP) which is transcriptionally silenced by a neo cassette flanked by LoxH/LoxP sites (AAV-lox-Stop-hrGFP). Thus, hrGFP is expressed only in neurons with Cre recombinase activity. To demonstrate the utility of this approach, the virus was injected unilaterally into the dorsomedial hypothalamus (DMH) of mice that express Cre in neurons expressing the leptin receptor. Animals with DMH injections showed robust hrGFP expression in DMH neurons, as visualized by its endogenous fluorescence or following immunolabeling. We found that hrGFP was expressed in approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of Cre-expressing neurons at the site of injection, but not in non-Cre-expressing neurons. The expression of GFP allowed us to identify the projection fields of DMH leptin-responsive neurons. Our results show hrGFP-positive axonal projections and terminals in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, arcuate nucleus, preoptic area, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, paraventricular thalamus, periaqueductal gray and precoeruleus. The aforementioned pattern of projections was similar to DMH projections determined by injections of biotinylated dextran amine in the mouse DMH. Interestingly, some hrGFP-positive terminals were seen contacting the ependymal layer of the 3rd and 4th ventricles. In summary, this approach is an effective tool to trace axonal projections of chemically identified neurons, including leptin-responsive neurons.
Adeno-Associated Virus; Cre-Lox; Green Fluorescent Protein; Mouse
Phosphatidyl inositol 3-kinase (PI3K) signalling in the hypothalamus has been implicated in the regulation of energy homeostasis, but the critical brain sites where this intracellular signal integrates various metabolic cues to regulate food intake and energy expenditure are unknown. Here we show that mice with reduced PI3K activity in the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus (VMH) are more sensitive to high fat diet-induced obesity due to reduced energy expenditure. In addition, inhibition of PI3K in the VMH impaired the ability to alter energy expenditure in response to acute high fat diet feeding and food deprivation. Furthermore, the acute anorexigenic effects induced by exogenous leptin were blunted in the mutant mice. Collectively, our results indicate that PI3K activity in VMH neurons plays a physiologically relevant role in the regulation of energy expenditure.
Obesity has been associated with an increased risk of developing several psychiatric illnesses including major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Likewise, these stress-related disturbances are associated with a higher rate of obesity, yet, the neurobiological mechanisms linking obesity and stress remain incompletely understood.
Following exposure to chronic social defeat stress (CSDS), mice were given free access to either regular chow or a Western-style diet high in triglycerides and cholesterol. Comprehensive metabolic and behavioral testing was then conducted.
Mice subjected to CSDS and then fed a high-fat diet for 30 days display severe behavioral deficits accompanied by redistribution of body fat. Stressed mice have decreased adipose tissue as well as decreased serum leptin levels compared to control mice. Pharmacological inhibition of β3-adrenergic signaling during CSDS normalizes these metabolic abnormalities but worsens behavioral symptoms. Furthermore, mice subjected to CSDS displayed central leptin resistance including reduced expression of pro-opiomelanocortin in hypothalamus. Administration of a central melanocortin agonist worsens stress-induced behavioral deficits, while mice lacking the melanocortin 4-receptor display attenuated symptoms.
These results indicate that chronic signaling through β3-adrenergic receptors during social stress is an adaptive response that improves behavioral function. However, these responses come at the expense of central leptin resistance and melanocortin signaling alterations that contribute to significant and long-lasting metabolic abnormalities.
Feeding; Metabolism; Leptin; Hypothalamus; Anxiety; Depression
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.
Studies in humans and rodents indicate that a minimum amount of stored energy is required for normal pubertal development. The adipocyte-derived hormone leptin is a key metabolic signal to the neuroendocrine reproductive axis. Humans and mice lacking leptin or the leptin receptor (LepR) (ob/ob and db/db mice, respectively) are infertile and fail to enter puberty. Leptin administration to leptin-deficient subjects and ob/ob mice induces puberty and restores fertility, but the exact site or sites of leptin action are unclear. Here, we found that genetic deletion of LepR selectively from hypothalamic Kiss1 neurons in mice had no effect on puberty or fertility, indicating that direct leptin signaling in Kiss1 neurons is not required for these processes. However, bilateral lesions of the ventral premammillary nucleus (PMV) of ob/ob mice blunted the ability of exogenous leptin to induce sexual maturation. Moreover, unilateral reexpression of endogenous LepR in PMV neurons was sufficient to induce puberty and improve fertility in female LepR-null mice. This LepR reexpression also normalized the increased hypothalamic GnRH content characteristic of leptin-signaling deficiency. These data suggest that the PMV is a key site for leptin’s permissive action at the onset of puberty and support the hypothesis that the multiple actions of leptin to control metabolism and reproduction are anatomically dissociated.
Acute leptin administration results in a depolarization and concomitant increase in the firing rate of a subpopulation of arcuate POMC cells. This rapid activation of POMC cells has been implicated as a cellular correlate of leptin effects on energy balance. In contrast to leptin, insulin inhibits the activity of some POMC neurons. Several studies have described a “cross-talk” between leptin and insulin within the mediobasal hypothalamus via the intracellular enzyme, phosphoinositol-3-kinase (PI3K). Interestingly, both insulin and leptin regulate POMC cellular activity by activation of PI3K, however it is unclear if leptin and insulin effects are observed in similar or distinct populations of POMC cells. We therefore used dual label immunohistochemistry/in situ hybridization and whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology to map insulin and leptin responsive arcuate POMC neurons. Leptin-induced Fos activity within arcuate POMC neurons was localized separate from POMC neurons which express insulin receptor. Moreover, acute responses to leptin and insulin were largely segregated in distinct sub-populations of POMC cells. Collectively, these data suggest that cross-talk between leptin and insulin occurs within a network of cells rather than within individual POMC neurons.
leptin; POMC; insulin; patch clamp; PI3K; arcuate