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Gene Ther. 2013 Jul;20(7):703-16. doi: 10.1038/gt.2012.83. Epub 2012 Nov 8.

Modulation of feeding by chronic rAAV expression of a relaxin-3 peptide agonist in rat hypothalamus.

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Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Relaxin-3 is a neuropeptide that is abundantly expressed by discrete brainstem neuron populations that broadly innervate forebrain areas rich in the relaxin-3 G-protein-coupled-receptor, RXFP3. Acute and subchronic central administration of synthetic relaxin-3 or an RXFP3-selective agonist peptide, R3/I5, increase feeding and body weight in rats. Intrahypothalamic injection of relaxin-3 also increases feeding. In this study, we developed a recombinant adeno-associated virus 1/2 (rAAV1/2) vector that drives expression and constitutive secretion of bioactive R3/I5 and assessed the effect of intrahypothalamic injections on daily food intake and body weight gain in adult male rats over 8 weeks. In vitro testing revealed that the vector rAAV1/2-fibronectin (FIB)-R3/I5 directs the constitutive secretion of bioactive R3/I5 peptide. Bilateral injection of rAAV1/2-FIB-R3/I5 vector into the paraventricular nucleus produced an increase in daily food intake and body weight gain (P<0.01, ~23%, respectively), relative to control treatment. In a separate cohort of rats, quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis of hypothalamic mRNA revealed strong expression of R3/I5 transgene at 3 months post-rAAV1/2-FIB-R3/I5 infusion. Levels of mRNA transcripts for the relaxin-3 receptor RXFP3, the hypothalamic 'feeding' peptides neuropeptide Y, AgRP and POMC, and the reproductive hormone, GnRH, were all similar to control, whereas vasopressin and oxytocin (OT) mRNA levels were reduced by ~25% (P=0.051) and ~50% (P<0.005), respectively, in rAAV1/2-FIB-R3/I5-treated rats (at 12 weeks, n=9/8 rats per group). These data demonstrate for the first time that R3/I5 is effective in modulating feeding in the rat by chronic hypothalamic RXFP3 activation and suggest a potential underlying mechanism involving altered OT signalling. Importantly, there was no desensitization of the feeding response over the treatment period and no apparent deleterious health effects, indicating that targeting the relaxin-3-RXFP3 system may be an effective long-term therapy for eating disorders.

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