In the adult, a hypothalamic neural network acts to maintain energy balance in response to nutritional feedback from the periphery. Although there is an immediate requirement for this system to be functional at birth, it is unknown whether the components of this central neural network are expressed in the developing brain before birth. We therefore examined in the fetal sheep hypothalamus during late gestation gene expression for leptin receptor (OB-Rb) and neuropeptides that regulate energy balance in the adult. Brains were collected from fetal sheep at 110 days (n = 12) and 140 days of gestation (n = 5) (term = 150 days) and gene expression was detected in all hypothalami using in situ hybridization with radiolabelled riboprobes for OB-Rb, neuropeptide Y (NPY), agouti-related peptide, pro-opiomelanocortin and cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART). All mRNAs were expressed in the arcuate nucleus of fetuses at both time points. Additional sites of mRNA expression were the dorsomedial hypothalamus (DMH) for NPY, the paraventricular nucleus (PVN), ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) and lateral hypothalamic area for CART, and the DMH, PVN and VMH for OB-Rb. We have therefore demonstrated that adult-like localization of gene expression for OB-Rb and key appetite regulatory neuropeptides is established in the ovine hypothalamus before birth. Thus, the fetus possesses a central appetite regulatory neural network with the potential to respond to changes in nutrient supply, which could impact on energy balance regulation both before and after birth.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience