Hypothalamic proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons have a cholinergic phenotype


Professor B. Meister, as above.
E-mail: bjorn.meister@ki.se


Neuronal networks originating in the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus play fundamental roles in the control of energy balance. Neuropeptide Y (NPY)-producing neurons in the arcuate nucleus stimulate food intake, whereas arcuate nucleus neurons that release the proopiomelanocortin (POMC)-derived peptide α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) potently reduce food intake. Relatively little attention has been focused on classical neurotransmitters in regulation of food intake. Here, we have investigated the potential presence of acetylcholine (ACh) in NPY- and POMC-containing neuronal populations of the arcuate nucleus. Antisera to proteins required for cholinergic neurotransmission, including choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) and the vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT), were employed in double-labeling immunohistochemical experiments. In colchicine-treated rats, ChAT- and VAChT-immunopositive cell bodies were located in the ventral aspect of the arcuate nucleus. ChAT and VAChT immunoreactivities were demonstrated in α-MSH- and cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART)-containing cell bodies of the arcuate nucleus, whereas cell bodies containing NPY or agouti-related peptide (AGRP) were distinct from VAChT-immunoreactive neuronal perikarya. VAChT immunoreactivity was also present in a large number of α-MSH-containing nerve fiber varicosities throughout the central nervous system. In the commissural part of the nucleus tractus solitarius, no α-MSH-containing cell bodies were found to have ChAT or VAChT immunoreactivity. The presence of markers for cholinergic neurotransmission in a subpopulation of hypothalamic POMC/CART neurons suggests co-release of ACh with peptides derived from the POMC precursor and CART. The results indicate a role for ACh in control of energy balance, mediating the effects of peripheral hormones such as leptin and insulin.