The fuel-sensing enzyme AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) has been implicated in central nervous system control of energy balance. Hypothalamic AMPK activity is increased by food deprivation, and this elevation is inhibited by refeeding or by leptin treatment. The contribution of extrahypothalamic AMPK activity in energy balance control has not been addressed. Here, we investigate the effects of physiological state on the AMPK activity in hindbrain nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) neurons because treatments that reduce energy availability in these neurons trigger behavioral, endocrine, and autonomic responses to restore energy balance. Food-deprived rats showed significantly increased AMPK activity in both NTS- and hypothalamus-enriched lysates compared with those that were ad libitum fed. Pharmacological inhibition of AMPK activity in medial NTS neurons, by intraparenchymal injection of compound C, suppressed food intake and body weight gain compared with vehicle. Fourth ventricle (4th icv) compound C delivery increased heart rate and spontaneous activity in free-moving rats. Suppression of AMPK activity has been implicated in leptin's anorectic action in the hypothalamus. Given the role of leptin signaling in food intake inhibition within the medial NTS, we also examined whether stimulation of hindbrain AMPK by 4th icv administration of 5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide- riboside (AICAR), an AMP- mimicking promoter of AMPK activity, could attenuate the inhibition of food intake by 4th icv leptin. The intake-suppressive effects of leptin (at 2 and 4 h) were completely reversed by AICAR. We conclude that 1) hindbrain AMPK activity contributes to energy balance control through regulation of food intake and energy expenditure, 2) leptin's intake-reducing effects in the NTS are meditated by AMPK, and 3) central nervous system AMPK controls whole-body homeostasis at anatomically distributed sites across the neuraxis.
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