Hypothalamic inflammation is a potentially important process in the pathogenesis of high-fat diet-induced metabolic disorders that has recently received significant attention. Microglia are macrophage-like cells of the central nervous system which are activated by pro-inflammatory signals causing local production of specific interleukins and cytokines, and these in turn may further promote systemic metabolic disease. Whether or how this microglial activation can be averted or reversed is unknown. Since running exercise improves systemic metabolic health and has been found to promote neuronal survival as well as the recovery of brain functions after injury, we hypothesized that regular treadmill running may blunt the effect of western diet on hypothalamic inflammation. Using low-density lipoprotein receptor deficient (l dlr-/-) mice to better reflect human lipid metabolism, we first confirmed that microglial activation in the hypothalamus is severely increased upon exposure to a high-fat, or "western", diet. Moderate, but regular, treadmill running exercise markedly decreased hypothalamic inflammation in these mice. Furthermore, the observed decline in microglial activation was associated with an improvement of glucose tolerance. Our findings support the hypothesis that hypothalamic inflammation can be reversed by exercise and suggest that interventions to avert or reverse neuronal damage may offer relevant potential in obesity treatment and prevention.
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