Feeding, sleeping or sex require opportune times that combine information gathered by multiple brain regions and are differentially gated. How does the brain weigh myriad stimuli to shape a behavioral output? To determine how such a large neural network functions, it is essential to influence the activity of a subpopulation of neurons and observe both physiological and behavioral responses simultaneously. Using genetic tools that allow precise control of neural activity in combination with in vivo electrophysiology and behavioral assays, we are discovering circuits that regulate homeostatic behaviors such as feeding or thermoregulation in mice. Furthermore, innovating and improving tools to manipulate molecular, biochemical or electrical characteristics of specific cell types is crucial in leading new discoveries. To this end, we seek opportunities to create techniques to alter the biology of a single protein or a network of cells in a predictable manner to uncover their role in whole organisms.
The widespread availability of energy-dense, rewarding foods is correlated with the increased incidence of obesity across the globe. Overeating during mealtimes and unscheduled snacking disrupts timed metabolic processes, which further contribute to weight gain. The neuronal mechanism by which the consumption of energy-dense food restructures the timing of feeding is poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that dopaminergic signaling within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the central circadian pacemaker, disrupts the timing of feeding, resulting in overconsumption of food. D1 dopamine receptor (Drd1)-null mice are resistant to diet-induced obesity, metabolic disease, and circadian disruption associated with energy-dense diets. Conversely, genetic rescue of Drd1 expression within the SCN restores diet-induced overconsumption, weight gain, and obesogenic symptoms. Access to rewarding food increases SCN dopamine turnover, and elevated Drd1-signaling decreases SCN neuronal activity, which we posit disinhibits downstream orexigenic responses. These findings define a connection between the reward and circadian pathways in the regulation of pathological calorie consumption.
Networks of neurons control feeding and activity patterns by integrating internal metabolic signals of energy balance with external environmental cues such as time-of-day. Proper circadian alignment of feeding behavior is necessary to prevent metabolic disease, and thus it is imperative that molecular players that maintain neuronal coordination of energy homeostasis are identified. Here, we demonstrate that mice lacking the p75 neurotrophin receptor, p75NTR, decrease their feeding and food anticipatory behavior (FAA) in response to daytime, but not nighttime, restricted feeding. These effects lead to increased weight loss, but do not require p75NTR during development. Instead, p75NTR is required for fasting-induced activation of neurons within the arcuate hypothalamus. Indeed, p75NTR specifically in AgRP neurons is required for FAA in response to daytime restricted feeding. These findings establish p75NTR as a novel regulator gating behavioral response to food scarcity and time-of-day dependence of circadian food anticipation.
Circadian rhythms, or biological oscillations of approximately 24 hours, impact almost all aspects of our lives by regulating the sleep-wake cycle, hormone release, body temperature fluctuation, and timing of food consumption. The molecular machinery governing these rhythms is similar across organisms ranging from unicellular fungi to insects, rodents, and humans. Circadian entrainment, or temporal synchrony with one's environment, is essential for survival. In mammals, the central circadian pacemaker is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus and mediates entrainment to environmental conditions. While the light:dark cycle is the primary environmental cue, arousal-inducing, non-photic signals such as food consumption, exercise, and social interaction are also potent synchronizers. Many of these stimuli enhance dopaminergic signaling suggesting that a cohesive circadian physiology depends on the relationship between circadian clocks and the neuronal circuits responsible for detecting salient events. Here, we review the inner workings of mammalian circadian entrainment, and describe the health consequences of circadian rhythm disruptions with an emphasis on dopamine signaling.
Dopamine (DA) neurotransmission controls behaviors important for survival, including voluntary movement, reward processing, and detection of salient events, such as food or mate availability. Dopaminergic tone also influences circadian physiology and behavior. Although the evolutionary significance of this input is appreciated, its precise neurophysiological architecture remains unknown. Here, we identify a novel, direct connection between the DA neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). We demonstrate that D1 dopamine receptor (Drd1) signaling within the SCN is necessary for properly timed resynchronization of activity rhythms to phase-shifted light:dark cycles and that elevation of DA tone through selective activation of VTA DA neurons accelerates photoentrainment. Our findings demonstrate a previously unappreciated role for direct DA input to the master circadian clock and highlight the importance of an evolutionarily significant relationship between the circadian system and the neuromodulatory circuits that govern motivational behaviors.