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J Neurosci. 2001 Dec 15;21(24):RC186.

Leptin enhances NMDA receptor function and modulates hippocampal synaptic plasticity.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 9SY, United Kingdom.


The obese gene product leptin is an important signaling protein that regulates food intake and body weight via activation of the hypothalamic leptin receptor (Ob-Rb; Jacob et al., 1997). However, there is growing evidence that Ob-Rb is also expressed in CNS regions, not directly associated with energy homeostasis (Mercer et al., 1996; Hakansson et al., 1998). In the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in learning and memory, we have found that leptin facilitates the induction of synaptic plasticity. Leptin converts short-term potentiation of synaptic transmission induced by primed burst stimulation of the Schaffer collateral commissural pathway into long-term potentiation. The mechanism underlying this effect involves facilitation of NMDA receptor function because leptin rapidly enhances NMDA-induced increases in intracellular Ca(2+) levels ([Ca(2+)](i)) and facilitates NMDA, but not AMPA, receptor-mediated synaptic transmission. The signaling mechanism underlying these effects involves activation of phosphoinositide 3-kinase, mitogen-activated protein kinase, and Src tyrosine kinases. These data indicate that a novel action of leptin in the CNS is to facilitate hippocampal synaptic plasticity via enhanced NMDA receptor-mediated Ca(2+) influx. Impairment of this process may contribute to the cognitive deficits associated with diabetes mellitus.

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