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Physiol Behav. 2003 Jun;79(1):47-63.

Ontogeny of the hypothalamic neuropeptide Y system.

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Division of Neuroscience, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University, 505 Northwest 185th Ave, Beaverton, OR 97006, USA.


Early onset obesity and type II diabetes is rapidly becoming an epidemic, especially within the United States. This dramatic increase is likely due to many factors including both prenatal and postnatal environmental cues. The purpose of this review is to highlight some of the recent advances in our knowledge of the development of the hypothalamic circuits involved in the regulation of energy balance, with a focus on the neuropeptide Y (NPY) system. Unlike the adult rat, during the postnatal period NPY is transiently expressed in several hypothalamic regions, along with the expected expression within the arcuate nucleus (ARH). These transient populations of NPY neurons during the postnatal period may provide local NPY production to sustain the necessary energy intake during this critical growth phase. This may be physiologically important since ARH-NPY projections do not fully develop until the 3rd postnatal week. The significance of this ontogeny is that many peripheral metabolic signals have little effect of feeding prior to the development of the ARH projections. The essential questions now are whether prenatal and/or postnatal exposure to high levels of insulin or leptin during development can cause permanent changes in the function of hypothalamic circuits. It is vital to understand not only the natural development of the hypothalamic circuits that regulate energy homeostasis, but also their abnormal development caused by maternal and postnatal environmental cues. This will be pivotal for designing intervention and therapeutics to treat early onset obesity/type II diabetes, which may very well need to be different from those designed to prevent/treat adult onset obesity/type II diabetes.

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