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Physiol Behav. 2009 Oct 19;98(4):511-6. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2009.08.005. Epub 2009 Aug 19.

Genetic and dietary effects on dendrites in the rat hypothalamic ventromedial nucleus.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, United States.


Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to individual differences in body weight regulation. The present study examined a possible role for the dendritic arbor of hypothalamic ventromedial nucleus (VMH) neurons in a model of diet-induced obesity (DIO) in male rats. Rats were screened and selectively bred for being either susceptible, i.e., exhibiting DIO, or diet resistant (DR) when exposed to a 31% fat diet. A 2x2 experimental design was used, based on these two strains of rats and exposure to rat chow versus the 31% fat diet for seven weeks. Golgi-impregnated neurons were measured for soma size and dendrite parameters, including number, length, and direction. As previously observed, each VMH neuron had a single long primary dendrite. Genetic background and diet did not affect soma size or the number of dendrites of VMH neurons. However, genetic background exerted a main effect on the length of the long primary dendrites. In particular, the long primary dendrites were approximately 12.5% shorter on the VMH neurons in the DIO rats compared with DR rats regardless of diet. This effect was isolated to the long primary dendrites extending in the dorsolateral direction, with these long primary dendrites 19% shorter for the DIO group compared with the DR group. This finding implicates the connectivity of the long primary dendrites on VMH neurons in the control of energy balance. The functional significance of these shortened dendrites and their afferents warrants further study.

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