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J Neurosci. 2019 Jan 16;39(3):456-471. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0958-18.2018. Epub 2018 Nov 20.

AGRP Neurons Project to the Medial Preoptic Area and Modulate Maternal Nest-Building.

Li XY1,2, Han Y1,2, Zhang W1, Wang SR1,2, Wei YC1,2, Li SS1,2, Lin JK1,2, Yan JJ1,2, Chen AX1,2, Zhang X1, Zhao ZD3, Shen WL3, Xu XH4.

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Institute of Neuroscience, State Key Laboratory of Neuroscience, CAS Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 200031, China.
University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China, and.
School of Life Science and Technology, The ShanghaiTech University, Shanghai, 201210, China.
Institute of Neuroscience, State Key Laboratory of Neuroscience, CAS Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 200031, China,


AGRP (agouti-related neuropeptide) expressing inhibitory neurons sense caloric needs of an animal to coordinate homeostatic feeding. Recent evidence suggests that AGRP neurons also suppress competing actions and motivations to mediate adaptive behavioral selection during starvation. Here, in adult mice of both sexes we show that AGRP neurons form inhibitory synapses onto ∼30% neurons in the medial preoptic area (mPOA), a region critical for maternal care. Remarkably, optogenetically stimulating AGRP neurons decreases maternal nest-building while minimally affecting pup retrieval, partly recapitulating suppression of maternal behaviors during food restriction. In parallel, optogenetically stimulating AGRP projections to the mPOA or to the paraventricular nucleus of hypothalamus but not to the LHA (lateral hypothalamus area) similarly decreases maternal nest-building. Chemogenetic inhibition of mPOA neurons that express Vgat (vesicular GABA transporter), the population targeted by AGRP terminals, also decreases maternal nest-building. In comparison, chemogenetic inhibition of neurons in the LHA that express vesicular glutamate transporter 2, another hypothalamic neuronal population critical for feeding and innate drives, is ineffective. Importantly, nest-building during low temperature thermal challenge is not affected by optogenetic stimulation of AGRP→mPOA projections. Finally, via optogenetic activation and inhibition we show that distinctive subsets of mPOA Vgat+ neurons likely underlie pup retrieval and maternal nest-building. Together, these results show that AGRP neurons can modulate maternal nest-building, in part through direct projections to the mPOA. This study corroborates other recent discoveries and underscores the broad functions that AGRP neurons play in antagonizing rivalry motivations to modulate behavioral outputs during hunger.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT In order for animals to initiate ethologically appropriate behaviors, they must typically decide between behavioral repertoires driven by multiple and often conflicting internal states. How neural pathways underlying individual behaviors interact to coherently modulate behavioral outputs, in particular to achieve a proper balance between behaviors that serve immediate individual needs versus those that benefit the propagation of the species, remains poorly understood. Here, by investigating projections from a neuronal population known to drive hunger behaviors to a brain region critical for maternal care, we show that activation of AGRP→mPOA projections in females dramatically inhibits maternal nest-building while leaving mostly intact pup retrieval behavior. Our findings shed new light on neural organization of behaviors and neural mechanisms that coordinate behavioral selection.


AGRP; behavioral antagonism; hunger; maternal nest-building; medial preoptic area; neural circuit

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