It is well documented that the hormone leptin signals information regarding the status of fat stores to hypothalamic nuclei, which in turn control feeding behaviour and body weight. However, leptin and its receptor are widely expressed in many extra-hypothalamic brain regions, including hippocampus, brain stem and cerebellum. Moreover, evidence is accumulating that leptin has other neuronal functions that are unrelated to its effects on energy homeostasis. Indeed a role for leptin in neuronal development has been suggested as leptin-deficient rodents display abnormal brain development and leptin actively participates in the development of the hypothalamus. In the hippocampus, leptin is a potential cognitive enhancer as genetically obese rodents with dysfunctional leptin receptors display impairments in hippocampal synaptic plasticity. Moreover, direct administration of leptin into the hippocampus can facilitate hippocampal LTP (long-term potentiation) in vivo and improve memory processing in mice. At the cellular level, we have also shown that leptin has the capacity to convert short-term potentiation into LTP. Here, we review the data that leptin influences hippocampal synaptic plasticity via enhancing NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor function. We also provide evidence that rapid trafficking of NMDA receptors to the plasma membrane may underlie the effects of leptin on excitatory synaptic strength.
- Cognitive enhancer
- N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDA receptor)
- Phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)
- Synaptic plasticity