Two anorexigenic peptides, thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) and urocortin 3 (UCN3), are co-expressed in a continuous neuronal group that extends from the perifornical area to the bed nucleus of stria terminalis, raising the possibility that this cell group may be involved in the regulation of energy homeostasis. In this study, therefore, we tested the hypothesis that the TRH/UCN3 neurons regulate food intake by influencing feeding-related neuropeptide Y (NPY) and/or proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons in the arcuate nucleus (ARC). Triple-labeled immunofluorescent preparations demonstrated that only very few NPY neurons (4.3 ± 1.3%) were contacted by double-labeled TRH/UCN3 axons in the ARC. In contrast, more than half of the POMC neurons (52.4 ± 8.5%) were contacted by double-labeled axons. Immuno-electron microscopy demonstrated that the UCN3 axons established asymmetric synapses with POMC neurons, indicating the excitatory nature of these synaptic specializations. Patch clamp electrophysiology revealed that TRH and UCN3 have antagonistic effects on the POMC neurons. While UCN3 depolarizes and increases the firing rate of POMC neurons, TRH prevents these effects of UCN3. These data demonstrate that TRH/UCN3 neurons in the perifornical/BNST region establish abundant synaptic associations with the POMC neurons in the ARC and suggest a potentially important role for these neurons in the regulation of food intake through an antagonistic interaction between TRH and UCN3 on the electrophysiological properties of POMC neurons.
Keywords: Antagonist effect; Arcuate nucleus; Bed nucleus of stria terminalis; Perifornical region; Proopiomelanocortin; Thyrotropin-releasing hormone; Urocortin 3.