Neurotensin (NTS) is a 13 amino acid neuropeptide that is expressed in the hypothalamus. In mammals, NTS-producing neurons that express leptin receptor (LepRb) regulate the function of hypocretin/orexin (HCRT) and dopamine neurons. Thus, the hypothalamic leptin-NTS-HCRT neuronal network orchestrates key homeostatic output, including sleep, feeding, and reward. However, the intricate mechanisms of the circuitry and the unique role of NTS-expressing neurons remain unclear. We studied the NTS neuronal networks in zebrafish and cloned the genes encoding the NTS neuropeptide and receptor (NTSR). Similar to mammals, the ligand is expressed primarily in the hypothalamus, while the receptor is expressed widely throughout the brain in zebrafish. A portion of hypothalamic nts-expressing neurons are inhibitory and some coexpress leptin receptor (lepR1). As in mammals, NTS and HCRT neurons are localized adjacently in the hypothalamus. To track the development and axonal projection of NTS neurons, the NTS promoter was isolated. Transgenesis and double labeling of NTS and HCRT neurons showed that NTS axons project toward HCRT neurons, some of which express ntsr. Moreover, another target of NTS neurons is ntsr-expressing dopaminergeric neurons. These findings suggest structural circuitry between leptin, NTS, and hypocretinergic or dopaminergic neurons and establish the zebrafish as a model to study the role of these neuronal circuits in the regulation of feeding, sleep, and reward. J. Comp. Neurol. 523:831–848, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
The authors establish a zebrafish model to study the leptin-neurotensin-hypocretin neuronal circuit. In zebrafish, neurotensin neurons express leptin receptor and project toward hypocretin/orexin and dopamine neurons that express neurotensin receptor. These findings suggest that neurotensin neurons mediate leptin signaling and interact with neuronal systems that regulate feeding, sleep and reward.