A leptin-BDNF pathway regulating sympathetic innervation of adipose tissue

Nature. 2020 Jul;583(7818):839-844. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2527-y. Epub 2020 Jul 22.


Mutations in the leptin gene (ob) result in a metabolic disorder that includes severe obesity1, and defects in thermogenesis2 and lipolysis3, both of which are adipose tissue functions regulated by the sympathetic nervous system. However, the basis of these sympathetic-associated abnormalities remains unclear. Furthermore, chronic leptin administration reverses these abnormalities in adipose tissue, but the underlying mechanism remains to be discovered. Here we report that ob/ob mice, as well as leptin-resistant diet-induced obese mice, show significant reductions of sympathetic innervation of subcutaneous white and brown adipose tissue. Chronic leptin treatment of ob/ob mice restores adipose tissue sympathetic innervation, which in turn is necessary to correct the associated functional defects. The effects of leptin on innervation are mediated via agouti-related peptide and pro-opiomelanocortin neurons in the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus. Deletion of the gene encoding the leptin receptor in either population leads to reduced innervation in fat. These agouti-related peptide and pro-opiomelanocortin neurons act via brain-derived neurotropic factor-expressing neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (BDNFPVH). Deletion of BDNFPVH blunts the effects of leptin on innervation. These data show that leptin signalling regulates the plasticity of sympathetic architecture of adipose tissue via a top-down neural pathway that is crucial for energy homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / innervation*
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Agouti-Related Protein / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Arcuate Nucleus of Hypothalamus / cytology
  • Arcuate Nucleus of Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Leptin / deficiency
  • Leptin / metabolism*
  • Lipolysis
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Subcutaneous Fat / innervation
  • Subcutaneous Fat / metabolism
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Thermogenesis


  • Agouti-Related Protein
  • Agrp protein, mouse
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Leptin
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin