Calcitonin gene-related peptide alters the firing rates of hypothalamic temperature sensitive and insensitive neurons
© Braasch et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2008
Received: 21 January 2008
Accepted: 11 July 2008
Published: 11 July 2008
Transient hyperthermic shifts in body temperature have been linked to the endogenous hormone calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which can increase sympathetic activation and metabolic heat production. Recent studies have demonstrated that these centrally mediated responses may result from CGRP dependent changes in the activity of thermoregulatory neurons in the preoptic and anterior regions of the hypothalamus (POAH).
Using a tissue slice preparation, we recorded the single-unit activity of POAH neurons from the adult male rat, in response to temperature and CGRP (10 μM). Based on the slope of firing rate as a function of temperature, neurons were classified as either warm sensitive or temperature insensitive. All warm sensitive neurons responded to CGRP with a significant decrease in firing rate. While CGRP did not alter the firing rates of some temperature insensitive neurons, responsive neurons showed an increase in firing rate.
With respect to current models of thermoregulatory control, these CGRP dependent changes in firing rate would result in hyperthermia. This suggests that both warm sensitive and temperature insensitive neurons in the POAH may play a role in producing this hyperthermic shift in temperature.
The preoptic and anterior regions of the hypothalamus (POAH) have been shown to be thermoregulatory control centers of the brain for integrating and responding to changes in peripheral, core, and hypothalamic temperature. Although stimulation of specific sites in the brainstem may selectively activate thermoregulatory responses, local warming of the POAH results in a general heat loss, while cooling initiates heat production . Within this region, in vivo and in vitro electrophysiologic studies have identified thermally classified populations of neurons. The majority of these neurons are considered temperature insensitive, showing little or no temperature dependent changes in firing rate. However, approximately 30% of the neurons in the POAH can be classified as warm sensitive . The firing rates of these neurons can be selectively increased with warming of the POAH or decreased with cooling of this region. In addition, warm sensitive neurons are responsive to variations in skin and spinal temperature, and their activity can be directly correlated with the activation of physiologic and behavioral thermoregulatory responses . Therefore, warm sensitive neurons in the POAH appear to function as integrators of both central and peripheral thermal information, producing an efferent output that is directly responsible for the maintenance of body temperature. While both warm sensitive and temperature insensitive neurons have been shown to respond to specific endogenous mediators, there are no studies to date concerning the effects of the hormone CGRP on the activity of these neurons.
An enduring model of thermoregulatory control suggests that the activity of temperature insensitive neurons is integrated with the activity of warm sensitive neurons to determine a "set-point" temperature . While the concept of a single "set-point" for all thermoregulatory effector responses has recently been challenged , this model does provide a testable basis for understanding how endogenous modulators like CGRP can alter thermoregulatory control. For example, it is clear that during fever, a hyperthermic shift in thermoregulation occurs, resulting in an increase in heat production until the new balance is reached at a higher core temperature. Evidence suggests that this hyperthermic shift results from the local production of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and its effects on the activity of specific populations of POAH neurons . This has been demonstrated in a recent study which found that PGE2 directly inhibits the firing rates of most warm sensitive neurons and increases the activity of some temperature insensitive neurons in the most anterior regions of the POAH . Based on the model, either of these responses would result in hyperthermia and would predict that other mediators of hyperthermia, like CGRP, would have similar effects.
While fever is characterized by a long term hyperthermic shift in thermoregulatory control, the hyperthermia generated by CGRP can be much shorter in duration and results from both an increase in sympathetic activation and metabolic rate [8, 9]. This response is a common complication of anti-androgen treatment for prostate cancer in men that can be correlated with a rise in the level of the hormone CGRP . Experimentally, several studies have demonstrated similar increases in sympathetic activation and skin temperature when CGRP is elevated through intravenous injection [8, 9, 11]. Additionally, injection of CGRP directly into the dorsal medial hypothalamus or the ventral medial hypothalamus, two effector regions involved in thermoregulatory control, results in an increase in oxygen consumption, heart rate and core temperature in rats . Therefore, CGRP may act on the central nervous system (CNS) to produce a hyperthermic shift in thermoregulatory control.
Anatomical evidence also supports a central role for CGRP in regulating body temperature. It has been identified in the somas of neurons located in several nuclei of the hypothalamus , and the levels of CGRP mRNA expression within the POAH have been shown to increase after castration of male rats and ovarianectomization of female rats . In addition, distinct binding sites for this endogenous mediator are distributed throughout the rodent brain, including the POAH , and CGRP application in this region stimulates a rapid increase in CGRP receptors .
The mechanism by which CGRP can stimulate a hyperthermic shift in body temperature is unknown. We hypothesize that like PGE2, which mediates the rise in temperature that is a fever and accompanies stimulation of the immune system, CGRP stimulates this response through its selective effects on the firing rates of warm sensitive and temperature insensitive neurons in the POAH. Based on the proposed functional role of these neurons in thermoregulatory networks, these distinct responses to CRGP could lead to a transient hyperthermic shift in thermoregulatory control.
The firing rates of forty-five POAH neurons were recorded and characterized for responses to temperature and the endogenous hormone CGRP. As mentioned in the Methods, the thermosensitivity (impulses.s-1.°C-1) of each neuron was determined by plotting firing rate as a function of temperature. For neurons that were classified as warm sensitive, the regression coefficient (m) of this plot was at least 0.8 impulses.s-1.°C-1. All other neurons were classified as temperature insensitive. Thirty-eight neurons showed little change in firing rate in response to variations in temperature and were classified as temperature insensitive (m = 0.19 ± 0.03 impulses.s-1.°C-1). The remaining seven neurons showed increases in firing rate in response to changes in temperature and were classified as warm sensitive (m = 1.2 ± 0.32 impulses.s-1.°C-1).
The effects of CGRP on the firing rates of anterior hypothalamic neurons
Firing Rate (impulses.s-1 ± S.E.)
Insensitive (< 0.8)
4.2 ± 0.3
4.4 ± 0.3
4.1 ± 0.6
3.5 ± 0.5
5.1 ± 0.6*
3.6 ± 0.4
Warm (≥ 0.8)
8.2 ± 0.8
3.3 ± 0.6*
8.1 ± 0.5
In response to increased levels of the endogenous hormone CGRP, body temperature has been shown to rise [8, 9, 11]. While the effects of CGRP include sympathetic activation and increased metabolic heat production , little is known about the neural activation that leads to these effector responses that cause hyperthermia. However, there is clear evidence for the presence of CGRP receptors in the POAH, suggesting that these responses are mediated through the effects of CGRP on neurons within this thermoregulatory control center of the brain .
The POAH has been shown to be at the top of a hierarchy of thermoregulatory control regions throughout the CNS. Within the POAH, the neuronal model first proposed by Hammel , suggests that warm sensitive and temperature insensitive neurons provide contrasting synaptic input to populations of effector neurons which control heat loss and heat production responses. When excitatory input from warm sensitive neurons falls below the level of inhibitory input from temperature insensitive neurons, effector neurons, which control heat loss, reduce their activation of physiologic and behavioral responses and, as a result, body temperature rises. In contrast, heat production is controlled by effector neurons which receive inhibitory synaptic input from warm sensitive neurons and excitation from temperature insensitive neurons. If inhibition from warm sensitive neurons decreases, it follows that these effector neurons increase their activity, stimulating an increase in heat production. Therefore, the CGRP-dependent decreases in the activity of warm sensitive neurons could likely result in hyperthermia due to an increase in heat production and decreased heat loss. Additionally, hyperthermia could also result from an increase in the firing rates of temperature insensitive neurons. Our results clearly show that CGRP can alter the activity of thermoregulatory neurons in the POAH, by decreasing the firing rates of warm sensitive neurons and increasing the firing rates of the majority of temperature insensitive neurons (Table 1).
All of the effects of CGRP are exerted at high affinity receptors that are distributed in a regionally specific manner in the CNS [14, 16, 17]. The functional binding site for CGRP has been shown to be a heterodimer  composed of a G-protein coupled receptor, the calcitonin receptor-like receptor , and a single transmembrane accessory protein, termed the receptor activity modifying protein-1 . In the presence of CGRP, a stimulatory G-protein is activated, whose alpha-subunit mediates the activation of adenylyl cyclase . While this process has been shown to alter the activity of several types of potassium conductance in smooth muscle and peripheral neurons, in cortical neurons, CGRP-dependent activation of AC has been shown to alter the activity of the potassium A-current (IA) . Within the POAH, changes in the intracellular concentrations of cAMP and the activity of IA can regulate the neuronal firing rate and thermosensitivity [23, 24]. Therefore, it may be speculated that these two CGRP-dependent mechanisms could play a role in producing the firing rate responses demonstrated in our current study. It is worth noting that PGE2, acting at EP3 receptors, activates AC and reduces the firing rates of warm sensitive neurons and thus, may be working to produce hyperthermia through a similar intracellular pathway [6, 7].
With respect to our hypothesis that CGRP plays a role in mediating a transient hyperthermia, it is clear that CGRP is having a selective effect on the activity of POAH neurons that can be correlated with neuronal thermosensitivity (Figure 1). All of the warm sensitive neurons responded with a decrease in firing rate, and while temperature insensitive neurons either responded to CGRP with an increase in firing rate or did not respond, none of them showed a decrease in firing rate. (Table 1). Unlike PGE2 which mediates a thermogenic rise in core temperature during an immune response , CGRP responsive neurons were not restricted to any particular region or cell group within the POAH (Figure 2). While we do not yet know the functional role these neurons have in the neural pathways responsible for regulating specific thermoregulatory effector systems, we have clearly shown a selective effect for thermoregulatory neurons to CGRP that may lead to the initiation of an increase in body temperature.
With respect to current models of thermoregulatory control, the results suggest that CGRP dependent changes in firing rate would result in hyperthermia. Either an increase in the firing rates of temperature insensitive neurons or a decrease in the firing rates of warm sensitive neurons would result in a shift in the thermoregulatory set point to a higher temperature.
Therefore, both warm sensitive and temperature insensitive neurons in the POAH may play a role in producing this hyperthermic shift in temperature.
To record the extracellular single-unit activity of POAH neurons, tissue slices were prepared from male Sprague-Dawley rats (100–150 g) that were housed under standard conditions (23°C, 12:12-h light:dark cycle, with lights on at 8:00 am) and given food and water ad lib. Prior to each recording session, a rat was anesthetized with isofluorine and euthanized by quick decapitation, following procedures that have been approved by the University's Animal Care and Use Committee. After quick brain removal, a tissue block containing the POAH was cut and coronal slices (400 μM) were sectioned using a vibratome. The tissue slices were immediately transferred to an interface recording chamber. Throughout the recording session, the tissue slices were continuously perfused (1–2 ml.min-1) with an artificial cerebral spinal fluid (aCSF; 124 NaCl, 26 Na HCO3, 10 glucose, 5 KCl, 2.4 CaCl2, 1.3 MgSO4, and 1.24 KH2PO4), which was oxygenated (95% O2 - 5% CO2) and heated to an approximate temperature of 36°C. Tissue temperature was continuously monitored by a thermocouple which was placed in close proximity to the tissue slices.
Extracellular single-unit recordings were made using glass microelectrodes that had tip diameters of ~1 μm and were filled with 3 M NaCl. An Xcell-3 amplifier (FHC Inc.) was used to record electrical signals, which along with temperature, were recorded to digital tape for later analysis. The firing rate was determined over 1 second intervals, in which action potentials were isolated (signal to noise ratio of ≥ 3:1) and counted using a window discriminator and rate interval monitor (FHC Inc.). Once a stable level of activity was recorded for several minutes, the temperature was varied at least 2–3°C from the baseline temperature. By plotting firing rate as a function of temperature, the thermosensitivity (impulses.s-1.°C-1) was determined. In agreement with previous studies [25, 26], warm sensitivity is defined as a regression coefficient (m) of at least 0.8 impulses.s-1.°C-1. Neurons that did not meet this minimum level of thermosensitivity were classified as temperature insensitive.
Once neuronal thermosensitivity was determined, and temperature was once again stable at ~36°C, recorded neurons were exposed to CGRP (Sigma Chemicals), which was diluted to a concentration of 10 μM in aCSF, warmed to 36°C, and oxygenated in a separate perfusion tube (pH 7.38). While firing rate was being monitored and during continuous perfusion with aCSF, a microdrop (~0.2 ml) of CGRP containing aCSF was applied directly to the surface of the tissue slice, in close proximity to the recording electrode [27, 28]. Following exposure to CGRP, recordings were made for at least 10 minutes or until firing rate returned to baseline levels. After a recording session was completed, the firing rate of each neuron was digitized (60 Hz) for comparison and quantitative determination of responses to CGRP (Axoscope Software, Molecular Devices Inc.). One minute representative segments of firing rate activity were collected just prior to CGRP exposure (baseline), during the maximum response to CGRP, and after firing rate returned to pre-exposure levels (washout). A mean and standard error were calculated for each segment and significant responses to CGRP were determined by comparison to baseline firing rate using a standard T-test (Sigmaplot Software, SPSS Inc.; P ≤ 0.05).
To determine the location of each recorded neuron and characterize any regional selectivity in responses to CGRP, special attention was placed on determining the position of each electrode within the tissue slice. Electrodes were initially positioned within the tissue slices using stereoscopic visualization [7, 29]. Once the recording of a neuron's firing rate was completed, the location of the electrode was visually confirmed. Using the ventral edge of the third ventricle as a reference point, the dorsal-ventral and lateral-medial coordinates were determined. The coronal position was estimated by preparing tissue slices with more tissue remaining on the left side of the third ventricle and recording the depth of the electrode from the surface of the tissue slice. Tissue slices were removed from the chamber, fixed in a 4% formalin solution overnight and prepared for additional sectioning by at least 2 hours in a 30% sucrose solution. Tissue slices were then re-sectioned to a thickness of 40 μm, mounted on gel coated slides, and the histological stain giemsa was used to identify hypothalamic nuclei to reconfirm the location of each recording.
Calcitonin Gene Related Peptide
Central Nervous System
Preoptic and Anterior Regions of the Hypothalamus
Potassium A Current.
We would like to thank Bethany Schaffer for her assistance during recording sessions and in the histological processing of neural tissue. We would also like to thank Karl Mendoza for his work in reviewing and editing this manuscript. Support for this study was provided by the National Science Foundation: IBN-9983624, the National Institutes of Health: NS053794, the Borgenicht Foundation Grant, and in part by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant through the Undergraduate Science Program to the College of William and Mary.
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