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Deciphering an AgRP-serotoninergic neural circuit in distinct control of energy metabolism from feeding

Han, Y;Xia, G;Srisai, D;Meng, F;He, Y;Ran, Y;He, Y;Farias, M;Hoang, G;Tóth, I;Dietrich, MO;Chen, MH;Xu, Y;Wu, Q;

Contrasting to the established role of the hypothalamic agouti-related protein (AgRP) neurons in feeding regulation, the neural circuit and signaling mechanisms by which they control energy expenditure remains unclear. Here, we report that energy expenditure is regulated by a subgroup of AgRP neurons that send non-collateral projections to neurons within the dorsal lateral part of dorsal raphe nucleus (dlDRN) expressing the melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R), which in turn innervate nearby serotonergic (5-HT) neurons. Genetic manipulations reveal a bi-directional control of energy expenditure by this circuit without affecting food intake. Fiber photometry and electrophysiological results indicate that the thermo-sensing MC4RdlDRN neurons integrate pre-synaptic AgRP signaling, thereby modulating the post-synaptic serotonergic pathway. Specifically, the MC4RdlDRN signaling elicits profound, bi-directional, regulation of body weight mainly through sympathetic outflow that reprograms mitochondrial bioenergetics within brown and beige fat while feeding remains intact. Together, we suggest that this AgRP neural circuit plays a unique role in persistent control of energy expenditure and body weight, hinting next-generation therapeutic approaches for obesity and metabolic disorders.