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Keywords:

  • CNS distribution;
  • feeding behavior;
  • autonomic and endocrine regulation;
  • febrile response;
  • pain processing;
  • in situ hybridization histochemistry

Abstract

The melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4-R) plays a pivotal role in maintaining energy homeostasis in rodents and humans. For example, MC4-R deletion or mutation results in obesity, hyperphagia, and insulin resistance. Additionally, subsets of leptin-induced autonomic responses can be blocked by melanocortin receptor antagonism, suggesting that MC4-R–expressing neurons are downstream targets of leptin. However, the critical autonomic control sites expressing MC4-Rs are still unclear. In the present study, we systematically examined the distribution of MC4-R mRNA in the adult rat central nervous system, including the spinal cord, by using in situ hybridization histochemistry (ISHH) with a novel cRNA probe. Autonomic control sites expressing MC4-R mRNA in the hypothalamus included the anteroventral periventricular, ventromedial preoptic, median preoptic, paraventricular, dorsomedial, and arcuate nuclei. The subfornical organ, dorsal hypothalamic, perifornical, and posterior hypothalamic areas were also observed to express MC4-R mRNA. Within extrahypothalamic autonomic control sites, MC4-R–specific hybridization was evident in the infralimbic and insular cortices, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, central nucleus of the amygdala, periaqueductal gray, lateral parabrachial nucleus, nucleus of the solitary tract, dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV), and intermediolateral nucleus of the spinal cord (IML). By using dual-label ISHH, we confirmed that the cells expressing MC4-R mRNA in the IML and DMV were autonomic preganglionic neurons as cells in both sites coexpressed choline acetyltransferase mRNA. The distribution of MC4-R mRNA is consistent with the proposed roles of central melanocortin systems in feeding and autonomic regulation. J. Comp. Neurol. 457:213–235, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.