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Kenneth A Philbrick, Carmen P Wong, Adam J Branscum, Russell T Turner, and Urszula T Iwaniec

Leptin, the protein product of the ob gene, is essential for normal bone growth, maturation and turnover. Peripheral actions of leptin occur at lower serum levels of the hormone than central actions because entry of leptin into the central nervous system (CNS) is limited due to its saturable transport across the blood–brain barrier (BBB). We performed a study in mice to model the impact of leptin production associated with different levels of adiposity on bone formation and compared the response with well-established centrally mediated actions of the hormone on energy metabolism. Leptin was infused (0, 4, 12, 40, 140 or 400 ng/h) for 12 days into 6-week-old female ob/ob mice (n = 8/group) using sc-implanted osmotic pumps. Treatment resulted in a dose-associated increase in serum leptin. Bone formation parameters were increased at EC50 infusion rates of 7–17 ng/h, whereas higher levels (EC50, 40–80 ng/h) were required to similarly influence indices of energy metabolism. We then analyzed gene expression in tibia and hypothalamus at dose rates of 0, 12 and 140 ng/h; the latter dose resulted in serum leptin levels similar to WT mice. Infusion with 12 ng/h leptin increased the expression of genes associated with Jak/Stat signaling and bone formation in tibia with minimal effect on Jak/Stat signaling and neurotransmitters in hypothalamus. The results suggest that leptin acts peripherally to couple bone acquisition to energy availability and that limited transport across the BBB insures that the growth-promoting actions of peripheral leptin are not curtailed by the hormone’s CNS-mediated anorexigenic actions.

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Russell T Turner, Kenneth A Philbrick, Carmen P Wong, Dawn A Olson, Adam J Branscum, and Urszula T Iwaniec

Leptin-deficient ob/ob mice are morbidly obese and exhibit low total bone mass and mild osteopetrosis. In order to disassociate the skeletal effects of leptin deficiency from those associated with morbid obesity, we evaluated bone mass, architecture, gene expression, and indices of bone turnover in WT mice, ob/ob mice allowed to feed ad libitum (ob/ob), and ob/ob mice pair-fed equivalent to WT mice (pair-fed ob/ob). Mice were maintained at 32 °C (thermoneutral) from 6 to 18 weeks of age to minimize differences in resting energy expenditure. ob/ob mice were heavier, had more abdominal white adipose tissue (WAT), and were hyperglycemic compared with WT mice. Femur length, bone mineral content (BMC) and bone mineral density, and midshaft femur cortical thickness were lower in ob/ob mice than in WT mice. Cancellous bone volume (BV) fraction was higher but indices of bone formation and resorption were lower in ob/ob mice compared with WT mice; reduced bone resorption in ob/ob mice resulted in pathological retention of calcified cartilage. Pair-fed ob/ob mice were lighter and had lower WAT, uterine weight, and serum glucose than ob/ob mice. Similarly, femoral length, BMC, and cortical thickness were lower in pair-fed ob/ob mice compared with ob/ob mice, as were indices of cancellous bone formation and resorption. In contrast, bone marrow adiposity, calcified cartilage, and cancellous BV fraction were higher at one or more cancellous sites in pair-fed ob/ob mice compared with ob/ob mice. These findings indicate that the skeletal abnormalities caused by leptin deficiency are markedly attenuated in morbidly obese ob/ob mice.

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Russell T Turner, Adam J Branscum, Carmen P Wong, Urszula T Iwaniec, and Emily Morey-Holton

The gravitostat is purported to function as a leptin-independent, osteocyte-dependent mechanism for regulation of energy balance. If correct, reduced activation of gravitostat signaling caused by prolonged sitting may contribute to obesity. The gravitostat concept is supported by reduced body mass in rodents following surgical implantation of weighted capsules. However, the procedure induces a confounding injury response. We, therefore, sought to confirm a gravitostat by decreasing (microgravity and simulated microgravity) or increasing (simulated gravity) weight using less invasive models (spaceflight, hindlimb unloading and centrifugation). We also evaluated changes in weight following non-surgical injury (radiation). Male rats (Wistar, Sprague–Dawley and Fischer 344) ranging in age from 5–12 weeks at launch and flown for 4–19 days in low Earth orbit exhibited slightly lower (4-day flight) or no difference (all other studies) in weight compared to ground controls. Rats subjected to inflight (1.0 G) or ground (1.04 G and 1.56 G) centrifugation during a 19-day mission did not differ in weight. In female rats (Fischer 344), spaceflight (14 days) did not alter ovariectomy-induced weight gain. Finally, hindlimb unloading resulted in weight loss in lean and obese mice. The aforementioned findings are inconsistent with outcomes predicted by a gravitostat namely increased mass during weightlessness and decreased mass when subjected to >1 G simulated gravity. Injury (dose-associated graded increases in radiation) mimicked the leptin-independent weight changes attributed to a gravitostat. Taken together, these findings do not support gravitostat regulation of energy balance and suggest injury/stress as an alternative mechanism for weight loss induced by weighted capsules.

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Russell T Turner, Michael Dube, Adam J Branscum, Carmen P Wong, Dawn A Olson, Xiaoying Zhong, Mercedes F Kweh, Iske V Larkin, Thomas J Wronski, Clifford J Rosen, Satya P Kalra, and Urszula T Iwaniec

Excessive weight gain in adults is associated with a variety of negative health outcomes. Unfortunately, dieting, exercise, and pharmacological interventions have had limited long-term success in weight control and can result in detrimental side effects, including accelerating age-related cancellous bone loss. We investigated the efficacy of using hypothalamic leptin gene therapy as an alternative method for reducing weight in skeletally-mature (9 months old) female rats and determined the impact of leptin-induced weight loss on bone mass, density, and microarchitecture, and serum biomarkers of bone turnover (CTx and osteocalcin). Rats were implanted with cannulae in the 3rd ventricle of the hypothalamus and injected with either recombinant adeno-associated virus encoding the gene for rat leptin (rAAV-Leptin, n=7) or a control vector encoding green fluorescent protein (rAAV-GFP, n=10) and sacrificed 18 weeks later. A baseline control group (n=7) was sacrificed at vector administration. rAAV-Leptin-treated rats lost weight (−4±2%) while rAAV-GFP-treated rats gained weight (14±2%) during the study. At study termination, rAAV-Leptin-treated rats weighed 17% less than rAAV-GFP-treated rats and had lower abdominal white adipose tissue weight (−80%), serum leptin (−77%), and serum IGF1 (−34%). Cancellous bone volume fraction in distal femur metaphysis and epiphysis, and in lumbar vertebra tended to be lower (P<0.1) in rAAV-GFP-treated rats (13.5 months old) compared to baseline control rats (9 months old). Significant differences in cancellous bone or biomarkers of bone turnover were not detected between rAAV-Leptin and rAAV-GFP rats. In summary, rAAV-Leptin-treated rats maintained a lower body weight compared to baseline and rAAV-GFP-treated rats with minimal effects on bone mass, density, microarchitecture, or biochemical markers of bone turnover.