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PloS One


Geisel School of Medicine


Melanin concentrating hormone (MCH), a neuropeptide produced mainly in neurons localized to the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA), has been implicated in the regulation of food intake, energy balance, sleep state, and the cardiovascular system. Hypothalamic MCH neurons also have multisynaptic connections with diaphragmatic motoneurons and project to many central chemoreceptor sites. However, there are few studies of MCH involvement in central respiratory control. To test the hypothesis that MCH plays a role in the central chemoreflex, we induced a down regulation of MCH in the central nervous system by knocking down the MCH precursor (pMCH) mRNA in the LHA using a pool of small interfering RNA (siRNA), and measured the resultant changes in breathing, metabolic rate, body weight, and blood glucose levels in conscious rats. The injections of pMCH-siRNA into the LHA successfully produced a ∼62% reduction of pMCH mRNA expression in the LHA and a ∼43% decrease of MCH levels in the cerebrospinal fluid relative to scrambled-siRNA treatment (P = 0.006 and P = 0.02 respectively). Compared to the pretreatment baseline and the scrambled-siRNA treated control rats, knockdown of MCH resulted in: 1) an enhanced hypercapnic chemoreflex (∼42 & 47% respectively; P < 0.05) only in wakefulness; 2) a decrease in body weight and basal glucose levels; and 3) an unchanged metabolic rate. Our results indicate that MCH participates not only in the regulation of glucose and sleep-wake homeostasis but also the vigilance-state dependent regulation of the central hypercapnic chemoreflex and respiratory control.