LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center Study Shows Tiny Area of Brain Helps Regulate Weight

A new study from LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center shows that the brain’s preoptic area helps mice regulate their body weight, and that temperature-sensing nerve cells in that part of the brain could be used to curb weight gain.

The preoptic area (POA) is a small site critical to maintaining body temperature in warm-blooded animals, including humans, via temperature-sensing neurons. These nerve cells express the receptor for the hormone leptin, well-known for its effect on regulating body temperature and weight. 

The team of Dr. Heike Muenzberg-Gruening, a professor in Pennington Biomedical’s Leptin Signaling in the Brain Laboratory, showed that apart from maintaining core body temperature, the preoptic area also contributes to body weight regulation.

“This fact has been largely overlooked in the past,” said Muenzberg-Gruening.

The study “Preoptic leptin signaling modulates energy balance independent of body temperature regulation” was published in the May 15 edition of the journal eLife. Dr. Sangho Yu, an assistant professor in the neurobiology of energy balance, is the lead author of the study.

POALepr neurons regulated energy homeostasis via leptin-dependent and -independent pathways, and represent a novel target to curb body weight. Stimulating POALeprneurons suppresses both food intake and energy expenditure.

The next step for the Muenzberg Lab is to understand whether or not temperature and leptin-dependent body weight changes act independently of each other and can be targeted separately in metabolic diseases like obesity, said Muenzberg-Gruening.

“For me, one important direction would be figuring out the POALepr neural circuit that mediates food intake suppression,” said Yu. “Then we might be able to selectively stimulate this circuit without affecting the circuit that decreases energy expenditure to curb weight gain.”

This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health under grants P30DK072476, P20GM103528, R01DK092587, DK101379, 1HL122829, DK099598, DK105032, DK047348, 1DK117281; the American Heart Association, AHA053298N and AHA17GRNT32960003; the American Diabetes Association Foundation, ADA1-17-PDF-138; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA/CRIS3092-5-001-059.