Insulin and leptin revisited: adiposity signals with overlapping physiological and intracellular signaling capabilities.


The adipocyte-derived hormone leptin and the pancreatic beta cell-derived hormone insulin each function as afferent signals to the hypothalamus in an endocrine feedback loop that regulates body adiposity. Although these two hormones, and the receptors on which they act, are unrelated and structurally distinct, they exert overlapping effects in the arcuate nucleus, a key hypothalamic area involved in energy homeostasis. Defects in either insulin or leptin signaling in the brain result in hyperphagia, disordered glucose homeostasis, and reproductive dysfunction. To explain this striking physiological overlap, we hypothesize that hypothalamic insulin and leptin signaling converge upon a single intracellular signal transduction pathway, known as the insulin-receptor-substrate phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase pathway. Here we synthesize data from a variety of model systems in which such "cross-talk" between insulin and leptin signal transduction has either been observed or can be inferred, discuss our own data demonstrating that insulin and leptin both activate hypothalamic phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase signaling, and discuss the significance of such convergence with respect to neuronal function in normal individuals and in pathological states such as obesity. Identification of the key early molecular events mediating the action of both insulin and leptin in hypothalamic neurons promises new insight into the regulation of these neurons in health and disease.