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      Leptin Signaling, Adiposity, and Energy Balance

      Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

      Wiley

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          Abstract

          A chronic minor imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure may lead to obesity. Both lean and obese subjects eventually reach energy balance and their body weight regulation implies that the adipose tissue mass is "sensed", leading to appropriate responses of energy intake and energy expenditure. The cloning of the ob gene and the identification of its encoded protein, leptin, have provided a system signaling the amount of adipose energy stores to the brain. Leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells, acts in rodents via hypothalamic receptors to inhibit feeding and increase thermogenesis. A feedback regulatory loop with three distinct steps has been identified: (1) a sensor (leptin production by adipose cells) monitors the size of the adipose tissue mass; (2) hypothalamic centers receive and integrate the intensity of the leptin signal through leptin receptors (LRb); (3) effector systems, including the sympathetic nervous system, control the two main determinants of energy balance-energy intake and energy expenditure. While this feedback regulatory loop is well established in rodents, there are many unsolved questions about its applicability to body weight regulation in humans. The rate of leptin production is related to adiposity, but a large portion of the interindividual variability in plasma leptin concentration is independent of body fatness. Gender is an important factor determining plasma leptin, with women having markedly higher leptin concentrations than men for any given degree of fat mass. The ob mRNA expression is also upregulated by glucocorticoids, whereas stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system results in its inhibition. Furthermore, leptin is not a satiety factor in humans because changes in food intake do not induce short-term increases in plasma leptin levels. After its binding to LRb in the hypothalamus, leptin stimulates a specific signaling cascade that results in the inhibition of several orexigenic neuropeptides, while stimulating several anorexigenic peptides. The orexigenic neuropeptides that are downregulated by leptin are NPY (neuropeptide Y), MCH (melanin-concentrating hormone), orexins, and AGRP (agouti-related peptide). The anorexigenic neuropeptides that are upregulated by leptin are alpha-MSH (alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone), which acts on MC4R (melanocortin-4 receptor); CART (cocaine and amphetamine-regulated transcript); and CRH (corticotropin-releasing-hormone). Obese humans have high plasma leptin concentrations related to the size of adipose tissue, but this elevated leptin signal does not induce the expected responses (i.e., a reduction in food intake and an increase in energy expenditure). This suggests that obese humans are resistant to the effects of endogenous leptin. This resistance is also shown by the lack of effect of exogenous leptin administration to induce weight loss in obese patients. The mechanisms that may account for leptin resistance in human obesity include a limitation of the blood-brain-barrier transport system for leptin and an inhibition of the leptin signaling pathways in leptin-responsive hypothalamic neurons. During periods of energy deficit, the fall in leptin plasma levels exceeds the rate at which fat stores are decreased. Reduction of the leptin signal induces several neuroendocrine responses that tend to limit weight loss, such as hunger, food-seeking behavior, and suppression of plasma thyroid hormone levels. Conversely, it is unlikely that leptin has evolved to prevent obesity when plenty of palatable foods are available because the elevated plasma leptin levels resulting from the increased adipose tissue mass do not prevent the development of obesity. In conclusion, in humans, the leptin signaling system appears to be mainly involved in maintenance of adequate energy stores for survival during periods of energy deficit. Its role in the etiology of human obesity is only demonstrated in the very rare situations of absence of the leptin signal (mutations of the leptin gene or of the leptin receptor gene), which produces an internal perception of starvation and results in a chronic stimulation of excessive food intake.

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          Most cited references 31

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          A mutation in the human leptin receptor gene causes obesity and pituitary dysfunction.

          The adipocyte-specific hormone leptin, the product of the obese (ob) gene, regulates adipose-tissue mass through hypothalamic effects on satiety and energy expenditure. Leptin acts through the leptin receptor, a single-transmembrane-domain receptor of the cytokine-receptor family. In rodents, homozygous mutations in genes encoding leptin or the leptin receptor cause early-onset morbid obesity, hyperphagia and reduced energy expenditure. These rodents also show hypercortisolaemia, alterations in glucose homeostasis, dyslipidaemia, and infertility due to hypogonadotropic hypogonadisms. In humans, leptin deficiency due to a mutation in the leptin gene is associated with early-onset obesity. Here we describe a homozygous mutation in the human leptin receptor gene that results in a truncated leptin receptor lacking both the transmembrane and the intracellular domains. In addition to their early-onset morbid obesity, patients homozygous for this mutation have no pubertal development and their secretion of growth hormone and thyrotropin is reduced. These results indicate that leptin is an important physiological regulator of several endocrine functions in humans.
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            Abnormal splicing of the leptin receptor in diabetic mice.

            Mutations in the mouse diabetes (db) gene result in obesity and diabetes in a syndrome resembling morbid human obesity. Previous data suggest that the db gene encodes the receptor for the obese (ob) gene product, leptin. A leptin receptor was recently cloned from choroid plexus and shown to map to the same 6-cM interval on mouse chromosome 4 as db. This receptor maps to the same 300-kilobase interval as db, and has at least six alternatively spliced forms. One of these splice variants is expressed at a high level in the hypothalamus, and is abnormally spliced in C57BL/Ks db/db mice. The mutant protein is missing the cytoplasmic region, and is likely to be defective in signal transduction. This suggests that the weight-reducing effects of leptin may be mediated by signal transduction through a leptin receptor in the hypothalamus.
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              Two defects contribute to hypothalamic leptin resistance in mice with diet-induced obesity.

              Obesity in humans and in rodents is usually associated with high circulating leptin levels and leptin resistance. To examine the molecular basis for leptin resistance, we determined the ability of leptin to induce hypothalamic STAT3 (signal transducer and activator of transcription) signaling in C57BL/6J mice fed either low-fat or high-fat diets. In mice fed the low-fat diet, leptin activated STAT3 signaling when administered via the intraperitoneal (ip) or the intracerebroventricular (icv) route, with the half-maximal dose being 30-fold less when given by the icv route. The high-fat diet increased body-weight gain and plasma leptin levels. After 4 weeks on the diet, hypothalamic STAT3 signaling after ip leptin administration was equivalent in both diet groups. In contrast, peripherally administered leptin was completely unable to activate hypothalamic STAT3 signaling, as measured by gel shift assay after 15 weeks of high-fat diet. Despite the absence of detectable signaling after peripheral leptin at 15 weeks, the mice fed the high-fat diet retained the capacity to respond to icv leptin, although the magnitude of STAT3 activation was substantially reduced. These results suggest that leptin resistance induced by a high-fat diet evolves during the course of the diet and has at least two independent causes: an apparent defect in access to sites of action in the hypothalamus that markedly limits the ability of peripheral leptin to activate hypothalamic STAT signaling, and an intracellular signaling defect in leptin-responsive hypothalamic neurons that lies upstream of STAT3 activation.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
                Wiley
                00778923
                17496632
                June 2002
                January 24 2006
                : 967
                : 1
                : 379-388
                Article
                10.1111/j.1749-6632.2002.tb04293.x
                12079865
                © 2006

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