Neuropeptides and obesity

Nutrition. 2000 Oct;16(10):916-23. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(00)00410-x.


This review focuses on the expression, content, and release of neuropeptides and on their role in the development of obesity in animal models with single-gene mutations. The balance between neuropeptides that contribute to the control of feeding behavior is profoundly and variously altered in these models, supporting the concept of the existence of several types of obesity. The hypothalamic neuropeptide Y (NPY) and the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) systems are the networks most studied in relation to energy intake. Both receive information about the nutritional status and the level of energy storage through insulin and leptin signaling mediated by specific receptors located on POMC and NPY neurons present predominantly in the arcuate nucleus (ARC). When leptin signaling is defective, through a defect in either the receptor (Zucker fa/fa rat, cp/cp rat, and db/db mouse) or in the peptide itself (ob/ob mouse), the NPY system is upregulated as shown by mRNA overexpression and increased peptide release, whereas the content and/or release of some inhibitory peptides (neurotensin, cholecystokinin) are diminished. For the POMC system, there is a complex interaction between the tonic inhibition of food intake exerted by alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH) and the Agouti-related protein at the level of the type 4 melanocortin receptor. The latter peptide is coexpressed with NPY in the ARC. Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) is the link between food intake and environmental factors. It not only inhibits food intake and prevents weight gain, likely through hypothalamic effects, but also activates the hypothalamo-pituitary axis and therefore contributes to energy storage in adipose tissue. The factors that prod the CRF system toward the hypothalamic or hypothalamo-pituitary axis system remain to be more clearly defined (comodulators, connections between limbic system and ARC, cellular location, and type of receptors, etc. ). The pathways used by all of these neuromodulators include numerous brain areas, but some interest has returned to the classic ones such as the ventromedial and lateral hypothalamic areas because of the recent discovery of some peptides (orexins and melanin-concentrating hormone for the lateral hypothalamus) and receptors (CRF type 2 in the ventromedial hypothalamus). All of these pathways are redundant and function in a coordinated manner and sometimes by the novel expression of a peptide in an unusual area. The importance of such a phenomenon in obesity remains to be determined. Even if single-gene mutations are exceptions in human obesity, the study of genetic animal models of obesity has greatly contributed to the understanding of the regulation of feeding behavior and will allow researchers to develop new drug treatments for obesity that have to be associated with drastic changes in lifestyle (feeding, work habits, and physical activity) for a complete efficiency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Obese
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation / physiology*
  • Neuropeptides / genetics*
  • Neuropeptides / physiology
  • Obesity / classification
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred OLETF
  • Rats, Zucker


  • Neuropeptides