Age-related ciliopathy: Obesogenic shortening of melanocortin-4 receptor-bearing neuronal primary cilia

Cell Metab. 2024 May 7;36(5):1044-1058.e10. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2024.02.010. Epub 2024 Mar 6.


Obesity is often associated with aging. However, the mechanism of age-related obesity is unknown. The melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) mediates leptin-melanocortin anti-obesity signaling in the hypothalamus. Here, we discovered that MC4R-bearing primary cilia of hypothalamic neurons progressively shorten with age in rats, correlating with age-dependent metabolic decline and increased adiposity. This "age-related ciliopathy" is promoted by overnutrition-induced upregulation of leptin-melanocortin signaling and inhibited or reversed by dietary restriction or the knockdown of ciliogenesis-associated kinase 1 (CILK1). Forced shortening of MC4R-bearing cilia in hypothalamic neurons by genetic approaches impaired neuronal sensitivity to melanocortin and resulted in decreased brown fat thermogenesis and energy expenditure and increased appetite, finally developing obesity and leptin resistance. Therefore, despite its acute anti-obesity effect, chronic leptin-melanocortin signaling increases susceptibility to obesity by promoting the age-related shortening of MC4R-bearing cilia. This study provides a crucial mechanism for age-related obesity, which increases the risk of metabolic syndrome.

Keywords: aging; brown adipose tissue; cilia; dorsomedial hypothalamus; intraflagellar transport; leptin; melanocortin; obesity; paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus; thermoregulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Aging / pathology
  • Animals
  • Cilia* / metabolism
  • Cilia* / pathology
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Leptin* / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neurons* / metabolism
  • Neurons* / pathology
  • Obesity* / metabolism
  • Obesity* / pathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4* / genetics
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4* / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Thermogenesis


  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4
  • Leptin