Leptin acts via its receptor (LepRb) on specific CNS neurons to signal the adequacy of long-term energy stores, thereby permitting the expenditure of resources on energy-intensive processes such as reproduction. The ventral premammillary nucleus of the hypothalamus (PMv), which has been implicated in the stimulation of gonadotropin release by olfactory cues, contains numerous LepRb neurons, suggesting a potential role for LepRb PMv neurons in transmitting both metabolic and odorant signals to the neuroendocrine reproductive system. Indeed, Fos immunoreactivity and electrophysiologic recordings revealed the direct activation of LepRb PMv neurons by leptin, and exposure to odors from mice of the opposite sex promoted Fos immunoreactivity (Fos-IR) in many LepRb PMv neurons. To determine the regions innervated by the LepRb PMv neurons, we used two novel cre-activated tract-tracing systems in Lepr cre animals; data from these systems and from standard tracing techniques revealed that LepRb PMv neurons project to a subset of the regions, including the preoptic area, that are innervated by the PMv as a whole. Furthermore, the retrograde accumulation in LepRb PMv neurons of a trans-synaptic tracer from GnRH neurons revealed the direct innervation of GnRH neurons by many LepRb PMv neurons. Thus, LepRb PMv neurons sense metabolic and sexual odorant cues and project to the rostral hypothalamus to directly innervate GnRH neurons. These results are consistent with a role for LepRb PMv neurons in regulating the reproductive axis in response to metabolic and odorant stimuli.
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