A Brain-Melanocortin-Vagus Axis Mediates Adipose Tissue Expansion Independently of Energy Intake

Cell Rep. 2019 May 21;27(8):2399-2410.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.04.089.


The melanocortin system is a brain circuit that influences energy balance by regulating energy intake and expenditure. In addition, the brain-melanocortin system controls adipose tissue metabolism to optimize fuel mobilization and storage. Specifically, increased brain-melanocortin signaling or negative energy balance promotes lipid mobilization by increasing sympathetic nervous system input to adipose tissue. In contrast, calorie-independent mechanisms favoring energy storage are less understood. Here, we demonstrate that reduction of brain-melanocortin signaling actively promotes fat mass gain by activating the lipogenic program and adipocyte and endothelial cell proliferation in white fat depots independently of caloric intake via efferent nerve fibers conveyed by the common hepatic branch of the vagus nerve. Those vagally regulated obesogenic signals also contribute to the fat mass gain following chronic high-fat diet feeding. These data reveal a physiological mechanism whereby the brain controls energy stores that may contribute to increased susceptibility to obesity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / cytology
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Energy Intake*
  • Liver / surgery
  • Male
  • Melanocortins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / deficiency
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / genetics
  • Signal Transduction
  • Vagotomy
  • Vagus Nerve / metabolism*


  • MC4R protein, mouse
  • Melanocortins
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4