Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

George B. Richerson


Thermogenic brown and beige adipocytes convert chemical energy to heat by metabolizing glucose and lipids via uncoupling protein 1 (Ucp1), a process known as non-shivering thermogenesis. Serotonin (5-HT) neurons in the ventral medulla are known to regulate sympathetic efferent neurons in the intermediolateral nucleus (IML) necessary to maintain brown adipose tissue (BAT) activity. Previous studies show that mice lacking central 5-HT neurons are incapable of maintaining body temperature in cold, ambient conditions. Due to this direct linkage between 5-HT and thermoregulation, we hypothesized that central 5-HT neurons may be vital to the regulation of brown and beige adipocyte activity. Given that BAT consumes large amounts of substrate when active, we also hypothesized that inactivation of BAT due to deletion of the regulatory neural circuitry (5-HT neurons) would cause metabolic dysregulation.

To test this, we generated mice in which the human diphtheria toxin (DT) receptor was selectively expressed in central 5-HT neurons under control of a Pet-1 promoter. Pet-1 is a transcription factor selectively located in mature, central 5-HT neurons. Coincidentally, some cells within pancreatic islets also express Pet-1, and contain adequate machinery to produce, release, and uptake 5-HT. Systemic treatment with DT eliminated 5-HT neurons and caused loss of thermoregulation, BAT steatosis, and a >50% decrease in Ucp1 expression in BAT and beige fat, indicative of reduced thermal production. In parallel, blood glucose increased 3.5-fold, free fatty acids 13.4-fold and triglycerides 6.5-fold. Intracerebroventricular (ICV) treatment with 1/30th the systemic dose of DT induced an even greater thermoregulatory impairment. The metabolic deficits following systemic DT treatment indicate that central 5-HT neurons are essential for proper metabolic regulation. However, such high levels of glucose and lipids also indicate failure of the pancreatic endocrine program following systemic treatment, likely due to moderate destruction of β-cells expressing Pet-1 and the DT receptor. Because ICV treatment caused even greater thermoregulatory and metabolic deficits, where little, if any, of the toxin would spread systemically, central 5-HT neurons are clearly essential for normal central regulation of metabolism. Interestingly, similar BAT and beige fat defects occurred in Lmx1bf/f/p mice, in which 5-HT neurons fail to develop in utero. Assessment of systemically treated animals using a euglycemic/hyperinsulinemic clamp showed extensive fasting hyperglycemia and systemic insulin resistance, coinciding with reduced glucose uptake in skeletal muscle and BAT. The hyperinsulinemic clamp failed to suppress hepatic glucose and fatty acid production, leading to the conclusion that loss of central 5-HT neurons disrupts central hepatic regulation.

In attempts to induce BAT thermogenesis and metabolism, we optogenetically stimulated 5-HT neurons in the rostral raphe pallidus and measured BAT and body temperature along with blood glucose. Unfortunately, these stimulations were incapable of increasing BAT temperature and lowering blood glucose, perhaps limiting therapeutic potential of these 5-HT neurons. We conclude that 5-HT neurons are major players in central regulation of metabolic homeostasis, in part through recruitment and activation of brown and beige adipocytes and hepatic substrate production. Data also suggest that 5-HT neurons regulate glucose homeostasis via undefined neural mechanisms independently of BAT activity and pancreatic insulin secretion. Cumulative data on central 5-HT neurons indicate they are master regulators of whole-body metabolism.


brown adipose tissue (BAT), glucose and lipid homeostasis, metabolic homeostasis, serotonin (5-HT), thermogenesis, UCP1


xii, 120




Copyright 2016 Jacob McGlashon