It is now established that the hypothalamus is essential in coordinating endocrine, autonomic, and behavioral responses to changes in energy availability. However, the interaction of key peptides, neuropeptides, and neurotransmitters systems within the hypothalamus has yet to be delineated. Recently, we investigated the mechanisms through which serotonergic (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) systems recruit leptin-responsive hypothalamic pathways, such as the melanocortin systems, to affect energy balance. Through a combination of functional neuroanatomy, feeding, and electrophysiology studies in rodents, we found that 5-HT drugs require functional melanocortin pathways to exert their effects on food intake. Specifically, we observed that anorectic 5-HT drugs activate pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (Arc). We provide evidence that the serotonin 2C receptor (5-HT2CR) is expressed on POMC neurons and contributes to this effect. Finally, we found that 5-HT drug-induced hypophagia is attenuated by pharmalogical or genetic blockade of downstream melanocortin 3 and 4 receptors. We review candidate brain regions expressing melanocortin 3 and 4 receptors that play a role in energy balance. A model is presented in which the activation of the melanocortin system is downstream of 5-HT and is necessary to produce the complete anorectic effect of 5-HT drugs. The data reviewed in this paper incorporate the central 5-HT system to the growing list of metabolic signals that converge on melanocortin neurons in the hypothalamus.
Previously published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2003, Vol. 994, pp. 169- 174. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2003.tb03177.x/full