The mammalian brain is composed of thousands of interacting neural cell types. Systematic approaches to establish the molecular identity of functional populations of neurons would advance our understanding of neural mechanisms controlling behavior. Here, we show that ribosomal protein S6, a structural component of the ribosome, becomes phosphorylated in neurons activated by a wide range of stimuli. We show that these phosphorylated ribosomes can be captured from mouse brain homogenates, thereby enriching directly for the mRNAs expressed in discrete subpopulations of activated cells. We use this approach to identify neurons in the hypothalamus regulated by changes in salt balance or food availability. We show that galanin neurons are activated by fasting and that prodynorphin neurons restrain food intake during scheduled feeding. These studies identify elements of the neural circuit that controls food intake and illustrate how the activity-dependent capture of cell-type-specific transcripts can elucidate the functional organization of a complex tissue.
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