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Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2004 Jul;287(1):R138-46. Epub 2004 Mar 4.

Blunted hypothalamic neuropeptide gene expression in response to fasting, but preservation of feeding responses to AgRP in aging male Brown Norway rats.

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VA Puget Sound Health Care System (S-182-GRECC 1660 South Columbian Way, Seattle, WA 98108-1597, USA.


Aging mammals lose the ability to maintain energy balance, exhibiting decreased appetite (anorexia) and impaired ability to maintain body weight. To determine the contribution of hypothalamic neuropeptides, two experiments were performed in male Brown Norway rats. To assess the hypothalamic neuropeptide response to food deprivation, young (Y; 4 mo old), middle-aged (M; 13 mo), and old (O; 25 mo) rats were either ad libitum fed or fasted for 72 h (n = 10/group) and killed. Hypothalamic levels of agouti-related peptide (AgRP), proopiomelanocortin (POMC), and cocaine-amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART) mRNA were assessed by in situ hybridization. With aging, arcuate AgRP gene expression decreased and CART mRNA increased, but POMC mRNA did not change. Fasting-induced changes in gene expression of all neuropeptides studied were attenuated with aging. To test the food intake response to appetite-stimulating neuropeptides, Y, M, O, and very old (VO; 33 mo) rats (n = 4-8/group) received one intracerebroventricular injection of each of three treatments: 0.1 nmol AgRP, 2.34 nmol NPY, and saline control. AgRP increased food intake of all groups by 10-20%, compared with saline, and this effect persisted up to 7 days after injection. VO animals were more sensitive to the effects of AgRP than younger animals. In contrast, NPY increased food intake more in Y than in older animals and its effects did not last >24 h. We conclude that the mechanisms by which arcuate nucleus neurons influence appetite are differentially affected by age and speculate that the melanocortin system may be a useful target for treatment of the anorexia of aging.

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