Raphe serotonin projections dynamically regulate feeding behavior through targeting inhibitory circuits from rostral zona incerta to paraventricular thalamus

Qiying Ye, Jeremiah Nunez, Xiaobing Zhang


Rostral zona incerta (ZIR) evokes feeding by sending GABA transmission to paraventricular thalamus (PVT). Although central serotonin (5-HT) signaling is known to play critical roles in the regulation of food intake and eating disorders, it remains unknown whether raphe 5-HT neurons functionally innervate ZIR-PVT neural pathway for feeding control. Here, we sought to reveal how raphe 5-HT signaling regulates both ZIR and PVT for feeding control.


We used retrograde neural tracers to map 5-HT projections in Sert-Cre mice and slice electrophysiology to examine the mechanism by which 5-HT modulates ZIR GABA neurons. We also used optogenetics to test the effects of raphe-ZIR and raphe-PVT 5-HT projections on feeding motivation and food intake in mice regularly fed, 24 h fasted, and with intermittent high-fat high-sugar (HFHS) diet. In addition, we applied RNAscope in situ hybridization to identify 5-HT receptor subtype mRNA in ZIR.


We show raphe 5-HT neurons sent projections to both ZIR and PVT with partial collateral axons. Photostimulation of 5-HT projections inhibited ZIR but excited PVT neurons to decrease motivated food consumption. However, both acute food deprivation and intermittent HFHS diet downregulated 5-HT inhibition on ZIR GABA neurons, abolishing the inhibitory regulation of raphe-ZIR 5-HT projections on feeding motivation and food intake. Furthermore, we found high-level 5-HT1a and 5-HT2c as well as low-level 5-HT7 mRNA expression in ZIR. Intermittent HFHS diet increased 5-HT7 but not 5-HT1a or 5-HT2c mRNA levels in the ZIR.


Our results reveal that raphe-ZIR 5-HT projections dynamically regulate ZIR GABA neurons for feeding control, supporting that a dynamic fluctuation of ZIR 5-HT inhibition authorizes daily food intake but a sustained change of ZIR 5-HT signaling leads to overeating induced by HFHS diet.