Metabolic flexibility allows rapid adaptation to dietary change, however, little is known about the CNS mechanisms regulating this process. Neurons in the hypothalamic ventromedial nucleus (VMN) participate in energy balance and are the target of the metabolically relevant hormone leptin. Cannabinoid type-1 (CB1) receptors are expressed in VMN neurons, but the specific contribution of endocannabinoid signaling in this neuronal population to energy balance regulation is unknown. Here we demonstrate that VMN CB1 receptors regulate metabolic flexibility and actions of leptin. In chow-fed mice, conditional deletion of CB1 in VMN neurons (expressing the steroidogenic factor 1, SF1) decreases adiposity by increasing sympathetic activity and lipolysis, and facilitates metabolic effects of leptin. Conversely, under high-fat diet, lack of CB1 in VMN neurons produces leptin resistance, blunts peripheral use of lipid substrates and increases adiposity. Thus, CB1 receptors in VMN neurons provide a molecular switch adapting the organism to dietary change.
Keywords: CB1 receptor; CB1, cannabinoid type-1; Endocannabinoid; FDG, fluorodeoxyglucose; FISH, fluorescent in situ hybridization; Hypothalamus; Leptin; Obesity; PET, positron emission tomography; SF1, steroidogenic factor 1; VMN, ventromedial nucleus; Ventromedial nucleus; vGlut2, vesicular transporter of glutamate 2 receptor.