Fluorescent blood-brain barrier tracing shows intact leptin transport in obese mice

Int J Obes (Lond). 2019 Jun;43(6):1305-1318. doi: 10.1038/s41366-018-0221-z. Epub 2018 Oct 3.


Background/objectives: Individuals carrying loss-of-function gene mutations for the adipocyte hormone leptin are morbidly obese, but respond favorably to replacement therapy. Recombinant leptin is however largely ineffective for the vast majority of obese individuals due to leptin resistance. One theory underlying leptin resistance is impaired leptin transport across the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). Here, we aim to gain new insights into the mechanisms of leptin BBB transport, and its role in leptin resistance.

Methods: We developed a novel tool for visualizing leptin transport using infrared fluorescently labeled leptin, combined with tissue clearing and light-sheet fluorescence microscopy. We corroborated these data using western blotting.

Results: Using 3D whole brain imaging, we display comparable leptin accumulation in circumventricular organs of lean and obese mice, predominantly in the choroid plexus (CP). Protein quantification revealed comparable leptin levels in microdissected mediobasal hypothalami (MBH) of lean and obese mice (p = 0.99). We further found increased leptin receptor expression in the CP (p = 0.025, p = 0.0002) and a trend toward elevated leptin protein levels in the MBH (p = 0.17, p = 0.078) of obese mice undergoing weight loss interventions by calorie restriction or exendin-4 treatment.

Conclusions: Overall, our findings suggest a crucial role for the CP in controlling the transport of leptin into the cerebrospinal fluid and from there to target areas such as the MBH, potentially mediated via the leptin receptor. Similar leptin levels in circumventricular organs and the MBH of lean and obese mice further suggest intact leptin BBB transport in leptin resistant mice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / diagnostic imaging
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fluorescence
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Leptin / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Obese / metabolism*
  • Molecular Imaging
  • Obesity, Morbid / metabolism*


  • Leptin