Endogenous cannabinoids are required for MC4R-mediated control of energy homeostasis

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Oct 19;118(42):e2015990118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2015990118.


Hypothalamic regulation of feeding and energy expenditure is a fundamental and evolutionarily conserved neurophysiological process critical for survival. Dysregulation of these processes, due to environmental or genetic causes, can lead to a variety of pathological conditions ranging from obesity to anorexia. Melanocortins and endogenous cannabinoids (eCBs) have been implicated in the regulation of feeding and energy homeostasis; however, the interaction between these signaling systems is poorly understood. Here, we show that the eCB 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) regulates the activity of melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R) cells in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVNMC4R) via inhibition of afferent GABAergic drive. Furthermore, the tonicity of eCBs signaling is inversely proportional to energy state, and mice with impaired 2-AG synthesis within MC4R neurons weigh less, are hypophagic, exhibit increased energy expenditure, and are resistant to diet-induced obesity. These mice also exhibit MC4R agonist insensitivity, suggesting that the energy state-dependent, 2-AG-mediated suppression of GABA input modulates PVNMC4R neuron activity to effectively respond to the MC4R natural ligands to regulate energy homeostasis. Furthermore, post-developmental disruption of PVN 2-AG synthesis results in hypophagia and death. These findings illustrate a functional interaction at the cellular level between two fundamental regulators of energy homeostasis, the melanocortin and eCB signaling pathways in the hypothalamic feeding circuitry.

Keywords: GABA neurotransmission; endogenous cannabinoids; energy homeostasis; melanocortin 4 receptor; paraventricular nucleus of hypothalamus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acids / physiology
  • Body Weight
  • Cannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Endocannabinoids / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Fasting
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Glycerides / physiology
  • Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Mice
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / agonists
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Glycerides
  • MC4R protein, mouse
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • glyceryl 2-arachidonate