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J Physiol. 2011 Jul 1;589(Pt 13):3103-14. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.208819. Epub 2011 Apr 18.

Nociceptin/orphanin FQ suppresses the excitability of neurons in the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus.

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Centre for Neuroscience, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2H7, Canada.


Nociceptin or orphanin FQ (N/OFQ) stimulates food intake when injected into the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMN). The VMN negatively regulates energy balance in part by tonically activating proopiomelanocortin arcuate neurons, thereby suppressing food intake. However, it is not clear how orexigenic neurotransmission within the VMN can stimulate food intake. We tested the hypothesis that the orexigenic action of N/OFQ results from its inhibition of anorexigenic VMN neurons. We studied the effects of N/OFQ on the electrical properties of anorexigenic VMN neurons in acute brain slices. Ionic mechanisms underlying the actions of N/OFQ were studied using whole cell patch-clamp recordings from VMN neurons expressing the anorexigenic leptin receptor (LepRb). Bath application of N/OFQ to LepRb-expressing VMN neurons elicited a robust, reversible membrane hyperpolarization that suppressed neuronal excitability by raising the action potential firing threshold and cell rheobase. N/OFQ activated a postsynaptic, G-protein coupled, inwardly rectifying potassium (GIRK) current that was sensitive to G-protein inactivation, blocked by the GIRK blocker SCH23390, and occluded by the GABAB agonist and potent GIRK activator, baclofen. Application of the selective N/OFQ receptor antagonist SB-612111 blocked the inhibitory effects of N/OFQ. We concluded that N/OFQ directly inhibited VMN neurons by activating a GIRK. These results implicate the site-specific contributions of orexigenic neuropeptides at VMN neurons to suppress anorexigenic output. This study thus advances our understanding regarding the contributions of the VMN to hypothalamic regulation of energy balance.

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