Metabolic sensing neurons and the control of energy homeostasis

Physiol Behav. 2006 Nov 30;89(4):486-9. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.07.003. Epub 2006 Aug 8.


The brain and periphery carry on a constant conversation; the periphery informs the brain about its metabolic needs and the brain provides for these needs through its control of somatomotor, autonomic and neurohumoral pathways involved in energy intake, expenditure and storage. Metabolic sensing neurons are the integrators of a variety of metabolic, humoral and neural inputs from the periphery. Such neurons, originally called "glucosensing", also respond to fatty acids, hormones and metabolites from the periphery. They are integrated within neural pathways involved in the regulation of energy homeostasis. Unlike most neurons, they utilize glucose and other metabolites as signaling molecules to regulate their membrane potential and firing rate. For glucosensing neurons, glucokinase acts as the rate-limiting step in glucosensing while the pathways that mediate responses to metabolites like lactate, ketone bodies and fatty acids are less well characterized. Many metabolic sensing neurons also respond to insulin and leptin and other peripheral hormones and receive neural inputs from peripheral organs. Each set of afferent signals arrives with different temporal profiles and by different routes and these inputs are summated at the level of the membrane potential to produce a given neural firing pattern. In some obese individuals, the relative sensitivity of metabolic sensing neurons to various peripheral inputs is genetically reduced. This may provide one mechanism underlying their propensity to become obese when exposed to diets high in fat and caloric density. Thus, metabolic sensing neurons may provide a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Glucose