The arcuate nucleus as a conduit for diverse signals relevant to energy homeostasis

R. D. Cone, M. A. Cowley, A. A. Butler, Wei Fan, D. L. Marks, M. J. Low

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

483 Scopus citations


Arcuate nucleus neurons are known to be responsive to a wide array of hormones and nutrients, including leptin, insulin, gonadal steroids and glucose. In addition to potential transport mechanisms, peripheral substances may access these neurons via arcuate cell bodies in and projections to the median eminence, a region considered to be a circumventricular organ. The arcuate is a potent site of leptin action, probably mediating a component of leptin's effects via arcuate neuropeptide Y/agouti-related peptide (NPY/AgRP) and pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons, and implicating this structure in the long-term control of energy stores. However, ghrelin, the endogenous ligand of the growth hormone secretagogue receptor, may also stimulate feeding and weight gain, in part through action on receptors in arcuate NPY neurons. Since ghrelin is secreted by the stomach upon content depletion, with a half-life of no more than an hour, the arcuate nucleus may also be important in sensing and responding to acute changes in nutrients. We have developed a system for recording from arcuate POMC neurons using a mouse containing a transgene in which the POMC promoter is driving expression of the green fluorescent protein (GFP). In these mice, 99% of the β-endorphin positive neurons express GFP, making whole cell patch clamp recordings from the sparsely distributed POMC neurons facile. All of the POMC neurons appear to be activated by leptin, via two different mechanisms, while approximately 30–50% of the neurons appear to be inhibited by a gamma-melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH) specific agonist. The latter result suggests that the melanocortin-3 receptor (MC3-R) may act as an autoinhibitory receptor on some POMC neurons. This hypothalamic slice preparation also confirms the responsiveness of arcuate POMC neurons to a wide variety of nutrients and hormones. Thus the arcuate melanocortin system is best described as a conduit of many diverse signals involved in energy homeostasis, with leptin acting tonically to regulate the responsiveness of the circuit to a wide variety of hormones and nutrients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S63-S67
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
StatePublished - Dec 2001


  • Agrp
  • Leptin, POMC
  • Mc3-R
  • Msh
  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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