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Ghrelin Signaling Affects Feeding Behavior, Metabolism, and Memory through the Vagus Nerve

Davis E, Wald H, Suarez A, Zubcevic J, Liu C, Cortella A, Kamitakahara A, Polson J, Arnold M, Grill H, Lartigue G, Kanoski S (2020) Current Biology 2020 Sep 10;S0960-9822(20)31259-8 doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.08.069 

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Vagal afferent neuron (VAN) signaling sends information from the gut to the brain and is fundamental in the control of feeding behavior and metabolism [1]. Recent findings reveal that VAN signaling also plays a critical role in cognitive processes, including affective motivational behaviors and hippocampus (HPC)-dependent memory [2-5]. VANs, located in nodose ganglia, express receptors for various gut-derived peptide signals; however, the function of these receptors with regard to feeding behavior, metabolism, and memory control is poorly understood. We hypothesized that VAN-mediated processes are influenced by ghrelin, a stomach-derived orexigenic hormone, via communication to its receptor (GHSR) expressed on gut-innervating VANs. To examine this hypothesis, rats received nodose ganglia injections of an adeno-associated virus (AAV) expressing short hairpin RNAs targeting GHSR (or a control AAV) for RNAi-mediated VAN-specific GHSR knockdown. Results reveal that VAN GHSR knockdown induced various feeding and metabolic disturbances, including increased meal frequency, impaired glucose tolerance, delayed gastric emptying, and increased body weight compared to controls. Additionally, VAN-specific GHSR knockdown impaired HPC-dependent contextual episodic memory and reduced HPC brain-derived neurotrophic factor expression, but did not affect anxiety-like behavior or general activity levels. A functional role for endogenous VAN GHSR signaling was further confirmed by results revealing that VAN signaling is required for the hyperphagic effects of ghrelin administered at dark onset, and that gut-restricted ghrelin-induced increases in VAN firing rate require intact VAN GHSR expression. Collective results reveal that VAN GHSR signaling is required for both normal feeding and metabolic function as well as HPC-dependent memory.