J Clin Invest. 2012;122(1):153–162. doi:10.1172/JCI59660.
Copyright © 2012, American Society for Clinical Investigation
First published December 27, 2011
Received for publication September 30, 2011, and accepted in revised form November 2, 2011.
Obesity is associated with hypothalamic injury in rodents and humans
Joshua P. Thaler1,2, Chun-Xia Yi3, Ellen A. Schur2, Stephan J. Guyenet1,2, Bang H. Hwang1,2,4, Marcelo O. Dietrich5, Xiaolin Zhao1,2,6, David A. Sarruf1,2, Vitaly Izgur7, Kenneth R. Maravilla7, Hong T. Nguyen1,2, Jonathan D. Fischer1,2, Miles E. Matsen1,2, Brent E. Wisse1,2, Gregory J. Morton1,2, Tamas L. Horvath5,8, Denis G. Baskin1,2,4, Matthias H. Tschöp3 and Michael W. Schwartz1,2
Rodent models of obesity induced by consuming high-fat diet (HFD) are characterized by inflammation both in peripheral tissues and in hypothalamic areas critical for energy homeostasis. Here we report that unlike inflammation in peripheral tissues, which develops as a consequence of obesity, hypothalamic inflammatory signaling was evident in both rats and mice within 1 to 3 days of HFD onset, prior to substantial weight gain. Furthermore, both reactive gliosis and markers suggestive of neuron injury were evident in the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus of rats and mice within the first week of HFD feeding. Although these responses temporarily subsided, suggesting that neuroprotective mechanisms may initially limit the damage, with continued HFD feeding, inflammation and gliosis returned permanently to the mediobasal hypothalamus. Consistent with these data in rodents, we found evidence of increased gliosis in the mediobasal hypothalamus of obese humans, as assessed by MRI. These findings collectively suggest that, in both humans and rodent models, obesity is associated with neuronal injury in a brain area crucial for body weight control.