Release of serotonin (5-HT) from dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) neurons projecting to the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) has a modulatory effect on the neural pathway involved in feeding, hunger, and satiety. The obese Zucker rat, an animal model of genetic obesity, exhibits differences in serotonin signaling as well as a mutated leptin receptor. To evaluate possible mechanisms underlying this difference in serotonin signaling, we have compared electrophysiological responses of DRN neurons from 14- to 25-day-old male lean (Fa/Fa) and obese (fa/fa) Zucker rats using the whole-cell patch clamp technique on cells in brain slices from these animals. We found that the resting properties of these neurons are not different, but the DRN neurons from obese rats are hyperexcitable in response to current injection. This hyperexcitability is not accompanied by an increase in the depolarization caused by current injection or by changes in the threshold for spiking. However, the hyperexcitability is accompanied by reduction in the size and time course of the afterhyperpolarization (AHP) following an action potential. DRN neurons of obese rats recover from the AHP faster due to a smaller amplitude AHP and a faster time constant (τ) of decay of the AHP. These deficits are not due to changes in the spike waveform, as the spike amplitude and duration do not differ between lean and obese animals. In summary, we provide evidence that serotonergic DRN neurons from obese Zucker rats are intrinsically hyperexcitable compared with those from lean rats. These results suggest a potential mechanism for the reported increase in 5-HT release at the VMH of obese rats during feeding, and provide the first direct evidence of changes in the intrinsic activity of serotonergic neurons, which are crucial regulators of feeding behavior, in a genetic model of obesity.
- Dorsal raphe nucleus
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