Orexins (hypocretins), novel peptides expressed in specific neurons of the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA), stimulate feeding when injected intracerebroventricularly. We investigated their role in feeding in the rat by measuring hypothalamic prepro-orexin mRNA levels under contrasting conditions of increased hunger. Prepro-orexin mRNA levels increased significantly after 48 h of fasting (by 90-170%; P < 0.05) and after acute (6 h) hypoglycemia when food was withheld (by 90%; P < 0.02). By contrast, levels were unchanged during chronic food restriction, streptozotocin-induced diabetes, hypoglycemia when food was available, voluntary overconsumption of palatable food, or glucoprivation induced by systemic 2-deoxy-D-glucose. Orexin expression was not obviously related to changes in body weight, insulin, or leptin, but was stimulated under conditions of low plasma glucose in the absence of food. Orexins may participate in the short-term regulation of energy homeostasis by initiating feeding in response to falls in glucose and terminating it after food ingestion. The LHA is known to contain neurons that are stimulated by falls in circulating glucose but inhibited by feeding-related signals from the viscera; orexin neurons may correspond to this neuronal population.

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