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RG Denis, G Williams, and RG Vernon

The factors regulating serum leptin concentration and its relationship to the hyperphagia of lactation have been investigated in rats. Lactation results in hypoleptinaemia and loss, or at least marked attenuation, of the nocturnal rise in serum leptin. Litter removal resulted in a fall in food intake and restoration of the nocturnal rise in serum leptin. Returning the litter to the mother after a 48-h absence increased food intake and began to reinitiate milk production, but the nocturnal serum leptin levels were still increased at 48 h after litter restoration. Adjusting litter size to four, eight, ten or fourteen pups at parturition resulted in different rates of litter growth and food intake during the subsequent lactation, but had no effect on the degree of hypoleptinaemia. Reducing litter size from ten to four pups at mid-lactation resulted in a transient increase in both serum leptin and pup growth rate, while food intake fell to a level found in rats suckling four pups throughout lactation. Reducing milk production by injection of bromocriptine increased serum leptin, but did not restore the nocturnal rise in serum leptin; food intake decreased, but remained much higher than in non-lactating rats. Feeding a varied, high-energy diet resulted in a decrease in the weight of food ingested, but no change in calorie intake, and had no effect on the hypoleptinaemia. These studies suggested that the hypoleptinaemia of lactating rats is due to negative energy balance, but the loss of the nocturnal rise in serum leptin is due to the suckling stimulus. The negative energy balance of lactation does not appear to be caused by a physical constraint on food intake. While the hypoleptinaemia should facilitate the hyperphagia of lactation, other orexigenic signals must also be involved.

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RG Denis, C Bing, EK Naderali, RG Vernon, and G Williams

We investigated the effects of lactation on diurnal changes in serum leptin and hypothalamic expression of the leptin receptor isoforms, Ob-Ra, -Rb, -Rc, -Re and -Rf in rats. In non-lactating rats, serum leptin concentration was increased at night while hypothalamic mRNA levels of Ob-Rb, -Rc and -Re decreased; by contrast, expression of Ob-Ra and Ob-Rf was unchanged at night. There were significant negative correlations between serum leptin and mRNA expression of Ob-Rb (P<0.001) and Ob-Re (P<0.05), which were independent of time of day. In lactating rats, the nocturnal rise in serum leptin was attenuated. Daytime hypothalamic Ob-Rb mRNA levels were significantly lower than in non-lactating controls, and the normal nocturnal decreases in expression of Ob-Rb, -Rc and -Re were lost. The relationship between serum leptin and Ob-Re expression was not changed by lactation. Lactation had no effect on the expression of Ob-Ra mRNA in the hypothalamus. Decreased daytime Ob-Rb expression could lead to reduced hypothalamic sensitivity to leptin, and thus contribute to increased daytime appetite in lactating rats. Moreover, maintaining high levels of Ob-Re expression could, by increasing hypothalamic leptin-binding protein concentration and reducing local leptin bioavailability, further accentuate hyperphagia. Thus, selective changes in expression of specific isoforms of the leptin receptor may contribute to the hyperphagia of lactation in rats.