Orexin (hypocretin) neurons, located exclusively in the PeF-LH, which includes the perifornical area (PeF), the lateral hypothalamus (LH), and lateral portions of the medial hypothalamus, have widespread projections and influence many physiological functions, including the autonomic regulation of body temperature and energy metabolism. Narcolepsy is characterized by the loss of orexin neurons and by disrupted sleep, but also by dysregulation of body temperature and by a strong tendency for obesity. Heat production (thermogenesis) in brown adipose tissue (BAT) contributes to the maintenance of body temperature and, through energy consumption, to body weight regulation. We identified a neural substrate for the influence of orexin neurons on BAT thermogenesis in rat. Nanoinjection of orexin-A (12 pmol) into the rostral raphe pallidus (rRPa), the site of BAT sympathetic premotor neurons, produced large, sustained increases in BAT sympathetic outflow and in BAT thermogenesis. Activation of neurons in the PeF-LH also enhanced BAT thermogenesis over a long time course. Combining viral retrograde tracing from BAT, or cholera toxin subunit b tracing from rRPa, with orexin immunohistochemistry revealed synaptic connections to BAT from orexin neurons in PeF-LH and from rRPa neurons with closely apposed, varicose orexin fibers, as well as a direct, orexinergic projection from PeF-LH to rRPa. These results indicate a potent modulation of BAT thermogenesis by orexin released from the terminals of orexin neurons in PeF-LH directly into the rRPa and provide a potential mechanism contributing to the disrupted regulation of body temperature and energy metabolism in the absence of orexin.
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