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OBJECTIVES: Pancreatic insulin was discovered a century ago, and this discovery led to the first lifesaving treatment for diabetes. While still controversial, nearly one hundred published reports suggest that insulin is also produced in the brain, with most focusing on hypothalamic or cortical insulin-producing cells.However, specific function for insulin produced within the brain remains poorly understood. Here we identify insulin expression in the hindbrain's dorsal vagal complex (DVC), and determine the role of this source of insulin in feeding and metabolism, as well as its response to diet-induced obesity in mice. METHODS: To determine the contribution of Ins2-producing neurons to feeding behavior in mice, we used the cross of transgenic RipHER-cre mouse and channelrhodopsin-2 expressing animals, which allowed us to optogenetically stimulate neurons expressing Ins2 in vivo. To confirm the presence of insulin expression in Rip-labeled DVC cells, in situ hybridization was used. To ascertain the specific role of insulin in effects discovered via optogenetic stimulation a selective, CNS applied, insulin receptor antagonist was used. To understand the physiological contribution of insulin made in the hindbrain a virogenetic knockdown strategy was used. RESULTS: Insulin gene expression and presence of insulin-promoter driven fluorescence in rat insulin promoter (Rip)-transgenic mice were detected in the hypothalamus, but also in the DVC. Insulin mRNA was present in nearly all fluorescently labeled cells in DVC. Diet-induced obesity in mice altered brain insulin gene expression, in a neuroanatomically divergent manner; while in the hypothalamus the expected obesity-induced reduction was found, in the DVC diet-induced obesity resulted in increased expression of the insulin gene. This led us to hypothesize a potentially divergent energy balance role of insulin in these two brain areas. To determine the acute impact of activating insulin-producing neurons in the DVC, optic stimulation of light-sensitive channelrhodopsin 2 in Rip-transgenic mice was utilized. Optogenetic photoactivation induced hyperphagia after acute activation of the DVC insulin neurons. This hyperphagia was blocked by central application of the insulin receptor antagonist S961, suggesting the feeding response was driven by insulin. To determine whether DVC insulin has a necessary contribution to feeding and metabolism, virogenetic insulin gene knockdown (KD) strategy, which allows for site-specific reduction of insulin gene expression in adult mice, was used. While chow-fed mice failed to reveal any changes of feeding or thermogenesis in response to the KD, mice challenged with a high-fat diet consumed less food. No changes in body weight were identified, possibly resulting from compensatory reduction in thermogenesis. CONCLUSIONS: Together, our data suggest an important role for hindbrain insulin and insulin-producing cells in energy homeostasis.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Metab

Publication Date



diet-induced obesity, dorsal vagal complex, food intake, hindbrain, insulin