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Hypothalamic Nutrient Sensing



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Heeley, Nicholas John 


Nutrient sensing neurons are unique in coupling changes in the concentration of nutrients to changes in neuronal activity. These neurons typically exist in regions of the brain where the blood brain barrier is fenestrated, such as the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus. Glucose and leucine are nutrients known to be sensed by neurons in this brain region, but the mechanisms by which they are sensed, and cells that sense them require further study. Using calcium imaging of adult neuron cultures from the mouse mediobasal hypothalamus, I demonstrated that leucine bidirectionally regulates neuronal activity in a neurochemically heterogeneous population of neurons, including AgRP/NPY and POMC neurons. Using pharmacological tools, I demonstrated, unexpectedly, that this acute sensing is independent of mTOR and leucine metabolism, known pathways involved in leucine sensing in vivo. Leucine sensing is LAT1 independent. The response principally relies on calcium entry into the cell across the plasma membrane, but IP3 sensitive calcium stores play a role in neurons inhibited by leucine. Using phosphoTRAP and single cell RNA sequencing, I aimed to identify a molecular marker for leucine sensing cells to allow their manipulation in vivo. PhosphoTRAP, and subsequent pharmacological studies identified a T Type calcium channel may be a marker for leucine sensing cells. AgRP neurons are essential for feeding, and also play roles in controlling glucose homeostasis. Using chemogenetics to selectively activate these neurons, I demonstrated, in contrast to a similar, recently published study, that blood glucose concentrations did not rise upon activation of these neurons. A subpopulation of AgRP neurons express glucokinase, and some AgRP neurons are glucose inhibited, but the role of glucokinase in these neurons has not been characterised. Our lab generated an AgRP neuron specific glucokinase knock out mouse line. Preliminary results suggest 18 – 25 week old female AgRP glucokinase knock out mice may have altered glucose tolerance, but conclusions can only be drawn once further mice have been phenotyped, and the success of the glucokinase knock out from AgRP neurons has been confirmed.





Evans, Mark L
Blouet, Clemence S


brain, glucose, leucine, nutrient, nutrient sensing, appetite, diabetes, obesity, hypothalamus, agrp, pomc


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge Clinical School