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Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Jun 15;304(12):E1338-47. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00021.2013. Epub 2013 Apr 23.

Leptin-sensitive sensory nerves innervate white fat.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Obesity Reversal Center, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia; and.


Leptin, the primary white adipose tissue (WAT) adipokine, is thought to convey lipid reserve information to the brain via the circulation. Because WAT responds to environmental/internal signals in a fat pad-specific (FPS) manner, systemic signals such as leptin would fail to communicate such distinctive information. Saturation of brain leptin transport systems also would fail to convey increased lipid levels beyond that point. WAT possesses sensory innervation exemplified by proven sensory-associated peptides in nerves within the tissue and by viral sensory nerve-specific transneuronal tract tracer, H129 strain of herpes simplex virus 1 labeling of dorsal root ganglia (DRG) pseudounipolar neurons, spinal cord and central sensory circuits. Leptin as a paracrine factor activating WAT sensory innervation could supply the brain with FPS information. Therefore, we tested for and found the presence of the long form of the leptin receptor (Ob-Rb) on DRG pseudounipolar neurons immunohistochemically labeled after injections of Fluorogold, a retrograde tract tracer, into inguinal WAT (IWAT). Intra-IWAT leptin injections (300 ng) significantly elevated IWAT nerve spike rate within 5 min and persisted for at least 30 min. Intra-IWAT leptin injections also induced significant c-Fos immunoreactivity (ir), indicating neural activation across DRG pseudounipolar sensory neurons labeled with Fluorogold IWAT injections. Intraperitoneal leptin injection did not increase c-Fos-ir in DRG or the arcuate nucleus, nor did it increase arcuate signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 phosphorylation-ir. Collectively, these results strongly suggest that endogenous leptin secreted from white adipocytes functions as a paracrine factor to activate spinal sensory nerves innervating the tissue.


dorsal root ganglia; electrophysiology; tract tracing; white adipose tissue

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