Insight into the mechanisms of action of neurotrophic growth factors has been obtained through the identification and characterization of gene products that are regulated or modified at the transcriptional, translational, and/or posttranslational level in response to neurotrophin treatment. VGF (non-acronymic) was identified approximately 15 years ago as a nerve growth factor (NGF)-regulated transcript in rat PC12 pheochromocytoma cells. Subsequent studies have demonstrated that neurotrophins such as NGF and brain-derived neurotrophic factor induce vgf gene expression relatively rapidly in PC12 cells and cultured cortical neurons, respectively, in comparison to less robust regulation by epidermal growth factor (EGF) and insulin, growth factors which do not trigger the neuronal differentiation of PC12 cells. vgf gene expression is stimulated in vitro by NGF and the ras/map kinase signaling cascade through a CREB-dependent mechanism, while in vivo, VGF mRNA levels are regulated by neuronal activity, including long-term potentiation, seizure, and injury. Both the mRNA and encoded approximately 68-kDa protein (VGF) are selectively synthesized in neuroendocrine and neuronal cells. The predicted VGF sequence is rich in paired basic amino acid residues that are potential sites for proteolytic processing, and VGF undergoes regulated release from dense core secretory vesicles. Although VGF mRNA is synthesized widely, by neurons in the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system, its expression is particularly abundant in the hypothalamus. In addition, VGF peptides are found in hypophysial, adrenal medullary, gastrointestinal, and pancreatic endocrine cells, suggesting important neuroendocrine functions. Recent analysis of VGF knockout mice indeed demonstrates that VGF plays a critical role in the control of energy homeostasis. VGF knockout mice are thin, small, hypermetabolic, hyperactive, and relatively infertile, with markedly reduced leptin levels and fat stores and altered hypothalamic pro-opiomelanocortin, neuropeptide Y, and agouti-related peptide expression. Coupled with the demonstration that VGF mRNA levels are induced in the normal mouse hypothalamic arcuate nuclei in response to fasting, important central and peripheral roles for VGF in the regulation of metabolism are suggested. Here we review previous studies of VGF in the broader context of its newly recognized role in the control of energy balance and propose several models and experimental approaches that may better define the mechanisms of action of VGF.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.