The adipocyte-derived hormone leptin decreases body weight in part by activating the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in increased thermogenesis and energy expenditure. We investigated hypothalamic pathways underlying leptin's effects on stimulating the sympathetic nervous system. We found that leptin activates neurons in the retrochiasmatic area (RCA) and lateral arcuate nucleus (Arc) that innervate the thoracic spinal cord and also contain cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART). We also found that most CART-containing neurons in the RCA and Arc of the hypothalamus also contain proopiomelanocortin (POMC) mRNA. The finding that leptin activates CART/POMC neurons innervating sympathetic preganglionic neurons in the thoracic spinal cord suggests that this pathway may contribute to the increased thermogenesis and energy expenditure and decreased body weight observed following leptin administration.
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