Much attention has been drawn to the possible involvement of hypothalamic inflammation in the pathogenesis of metabolic disorders, especially in response to a high-fat diet. Microglia, the macrophages of the central nervous system, can be activated by proinflammatory signals resulting in the local production of specific interleukins and cytokines, which in turn could exacerbate the pathogenic process. Because obesity itself is considered to be a state of chronic inflammation, we evaluated whether being overweight results in microglial activation in the hypothalamus of rats on a normal diet. Accordingly, we used a model of neonatal overnutrition that entailed adjustment of litter size at birth (small litters: four pups/dam versus normal litters: 12 pups/dam) and resulted in a 15% increase in bodyweight and increased circulating leptin levels at postnatal day 60. Rats that were overnourished during neonatal life had an increased number of activated microglia in specific hypothalamic areas such as the ventromedial hypothalamus, which is an important site for metabolic control. However, this effect was not confined to the hypothalamus because significant microglial activation was also observed in the cerebellar white matter. There was no change in circulating tumour necrosis factor (TNF) α levels or TNFα mRNA levels in either the hypothalamus or cerebellum. Interleukin (IL)6 protein levels were higher in both the hypothalamus and cerebellum, with no change in IL6 mRNA levels. Because circulating IL6 levels were elevated, this rise in central IL6 could be a result of increased uptake. Thus, activation of microglia occurs in adult rats exposed to neonatal overnutrition and a moderate increase in weight gain on a normal diet, possibly representing a secondary response to systemic inflammation. Moreover, this activation could result in local changes in specific hypothalamic nuclei that in turn further deregulate metabolic homeostasis.
© 2011 The Authors. Journal of Neuroendocrinology © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.