The mutation of the ob gene is known to induce a phenotype of obesity accompanied by symptoms including enhanced production of glucocorticoid. Chronic administration to ob/ob mice of leptin, the ob gene product, reverses hypercorticosteronemia. This establishes a clear relation between adipocyte and hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functions. In the present study we investigated the acute modulatory effects of food intake-stimulated leptin secretion on HPA axis activity and hypothalamic leptin receptor (Ob-Rb) expression in 24-hour fasting, adult female, BALB/c mice after insulin-induced hypoglycemia. Our results indicate that: (1) food supply for 45 min to 24-hour fasting mice increased plasma glucose levels and reversed both hypercorticosteronemia and hypoleptinemia; (2) the insulin-induced hypoglycemia produced a marked HPA axis activation in animals with no access to food but this response was fully prevented by food intake and the consecutive increase in plasma leptin levels; (3) the inhibitory effect of leptin on the HPA axis response to insulin-induced hypoglycemia was corroborated by i.p. administration of murine leptin, and (4) fasting-induced hypothalamic Ob-Rb overexpression is not modulated by insulin itself but by leptin, since increase in leptin levels by food intake or by administration of exogenous leptin completely reversed this Ob-Rb overexpression. These results confirm the inhibitory effect of leptin on the HPA axis response to various stress stimuli. They clearly demonstrate that acute food intake in 24-hour fasting mice: (a) rapidly reduced fasting-induced hypercorticosteronemia by enhancing both spontaneous and insulin-elicited endogenous leptin secretion; (b) fully prevented HPA axis response to insulin administration, by rapidly increasing endogenous leptin secretion and probably also by diminishing the extent and the duration of insulin-induced hypoglycemia, and (c) abolished hypothalamic Ob-Rb overexpression induced by fasting itself combined with insulin treatment. The present data strongly suggests an inhibitory effect of endogenous leptin on insulin-induced HPA axis response, an interaction relevant to the physiological adaptation to starvation and caloric excess, and further supports the pivotal role played by the hypothalamus in restoring homeostasis in different allostatic states.

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