Mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) and substrate utilization critically regulate the function of hypothalamic proopiomelanocortin (POMC)-expressing neurons. Here, we demonstrate that inactivation of apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) in POMC neurons mildly impairs mitochondrial respiration and decreases firing of POMC neurons in lean mice. In contrast, under diet-induced obese conditions, POMC-Cre-specific inactivation of AIF prevents obesity-induced silencing of POMC neurons, translating into improved glucose metabolism, improved leptin, and insulin sensitivity, as well as increased energy expenditure in AIFΔPOMC mice. On a cellular level, AIF deficiency improves mitochondrial morphology, facilitates the utilization of fatty acids for mitochondrial respiration, and increases reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation in POMC neurons from obese mice, ultimately leading to restored POMC firing upon HFD feeding. Collectively, partial impairment of mitochondrial function shifts substrate utilization of POMC neurons from glucose to fatty acid metabolism and restores their firing properties, resulting in improved systemic glucose and energy metabolism in obesity. Timper et al. show that mild impairment of mitochondrial OXPHOS upon deletion of AIF or MPC1 in hypothalamic POMC-expressing neurons increases their fatty acid utilization and ROS formation, prevents obesity-induced silencing of these neurons, and improves systemic glucose metabolism in obesity.
Timper, K., Paeger, L., Sánchez-Lasheras, C., Varela, L., Jais, A., Nolte, H., … Brüning, J. C. (2018). Mild Impairment of Mitochondrial OXPHOS Promotes Fatty Acid Utilization in POMC Neurons and Improves Glucose Homeostasis in Obesity. Cell Reports, 25(2), 383-397.e10. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2018.09.034