Optogenetic stimulation of the liver-projecting melanocortinergic pathway promotes hepatic glucose production

Eunjin Kwon, Hye Young Joung, Shun Mei Liu, Streamson C. Chua, Gary J. Schwartz, Young Hwan Jo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The central melanocortin system plays a fundamental role in the control of feeding and body weight. Proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (ARC) also regulate overall glucose homeostasis via insulin-dependent and -independent pathways. Here, we report that a subset of ARC POMC neurons innervate the liver via preganglionic parasympathetic acetylcholine (ACh) neurons in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV). Optogenetic stimulation of this liver-projecting melanocortinergic pathway elevates blood glucose levels that is associated with increased expression of hepatic gluconeogenic enzymes in female and male mice. Pharmacological blockade and knockdown of the melanocortin-4 receptor gene in the DMV abolish this stimulation-induced effect. Activation of melanocortin-4 receptors inhibits DMV cholinergic neurons and optogenetic inhibition of liver-projecting parasympathetic cholinergic fibers increases blood glucose levels. This elevated blood glucose is not due to altered pancreatic hormone release. Interestingly, insulin-induced hypoglycemia increases ARC POMC neuron activity. Hence, this liver-projecting melanocortinergic circuit that we identified may play a critical role in the counterregulatory response to hypoglycemia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6295
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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