Sex differences in the sympathoexcitatory response to insulin in obese rats: role of neuropeptide Y

J Physiol. 2019 Mar;597(6):1757-1775. doi: 10.1113/JP277517. Epub 2019 Feb 3.


Key points: Intracerebroventricular insulin increased sympathetic nerve activity (SNA) and baroreflex control of SNA and heart rate more dramatically in obese male rats; in obese females, the responses were abolished. In obese males, the enhanced lumbar SNA (LSNA) responses were associated with reduced tonic inhibition of LSNA by neuropeptide Y (NPY) in the PVN. However, PVN NPY injection decreased LSNA similarly in obesity prone/obesity resistant/control rats. Collectively, these results suggest that NPY inputs were decreased. In obese females, NPY inhibition in the PVN was maintained. Moreover, NPY neurons in the arcuate nucleus became resistant to the inhibitory effects of insulin. A high-fat diet did not alter arcuate NPY neuronal InsR expression in males or females. Obesity-induced 'selective sensitization' of the brain to the sympathoexcitatory effects of insulin and leptin may contribute to elevated basal SNA, and therefore hypertension development, in males with obesity. These data may explain in part why obesity increases SNA less in women compared to men.

Abstract: Obesity increases sympathetic nerve activity (SNA) in men but not women; however, the mechanisms are unknown. We investigated whether intracerebroventricular insulin infusion increases SNA more in obese male than female rats and if sex differences are mediated by changes in tonic inhibition of SNA by neuropeptide Y (NPY) in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN). When consuming a high-fat diet, obesity prone (OP) rats accrued excess fat, whereas obesity resistant (OR) rats maintained adiposity as in rats eating a control (CON) diet. Insulin increased lumbar SNA (LSNA) similarly in CON/OR males and females under urethane anaesthesia. The LSNA response was magnified in OP males but abolished in OP females. In males, blockade of PVN NPY Y1 receptors with BIBO3304 increased LSNA in CON/OR rats but not OP rats. Yet, PVN nanoinjections of NPY decreased LSNA similarly between groups. Thus, tonic PVN NPY inhibition of LSNA may be lost in obese males as a result of a decrease in NPY inputs. By contrast, in females, PVN BIBO3304 increased LSNA similarly in OP, OR and CON rats. After insulin, PVN BIBO3304 failed to increase LSNA in CON/OR females but increased LSNA in OP females, suggesting that with obesity NPY neurons become resistant to the inhibitory effects of insulin. These sex differences were not associated with changes in arcuate NPY neuronal insulin receptor expression. Collectively, these data reveal a marked sex difference in the impact of obesity on the sympathoexcitatory actions of insulin and implicate sexually dimorphic changes in NPY inhibition of SNA in the PVN as one mechanism.

Keywords: BIBO3304; LSNA; NPY; arcuate nucleus; diet-induced obesity; male and female rats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arcuate Nucleus of Hypothalamus / drug effects
  • Arcuate Nucleus of Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Arginine / analogs & derivatives
  • Arginine / pharmacology
  • Baroreflex
  • Female
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Neural Inhibition*
  • Neuropeptide Y / metabolism
  • Neuropeptide Y / pharmacology*
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / drug effects
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide Y / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Sex Factors
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology


  • Insulin
  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide Y
  • Arginine
  • BIBO 3304