Relaxin/insulin-like family peptide receptor 4 (Rxfp4) expressing hypothalamic neurons modulate food intake and preference in mice

Jo E. Lewis, Orla RM. Woodward, Danaé Nuzzaci, Christopher A. Smith, ... Frank Reimann


Insulin-like peptide 5 (INSL5) signalling, through its cognate receptor relaxin/insulin-like family peptide receptor 4 (RXFP4), has been reported to be orexigenic, and the high fat diet (HFD) preference observed in wildtype mice is altered in Rxfp4 knock-out mice. In this study, we used a new Rxfp4-Cre mouse model to investigate the mechanisms underlying these observations.


We generated transgenic Rxfp4-Cre mice and investigated central expression of Rxfp4 by RT-qPCR, RNAscope and intraparenchymal infusion of INSL5. Rxfp4-expressing cells were chemogenetically manipulated in global Cre-reporter mice using designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs) or after stereotactic injection of a Cre-dependent AAV-DIO-Dq-DREADD targeting a population located in the ventromedial hypothalamus (RXFP4VMH). Food intake and feeding motivation were assessed in the presence and absence of a DREADD agonist. Rxfp4-expressing cells in the hypothalamus were characterised by single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNAseq) and the connectivity of RXFP4VMH cells was investigated using viral tracing.


Rxfp4-Cre mice displayed Cre-reporter expression in the hypothalamus. Active expression of Rxfp4 in the adult mouse brain was confirmed by RT-qPCR and RNAscope. Functional receptor expression was supported by cyclic AMP-responses to INSL5 application in ex vivo brain slices and increased HFD and highly palatable liquid meal (HPM), but not chow, intake after intra-VMH INSL5 infusion. scRNAseq of hypothalamic RXFP4 neurons defined a cluster expressing VMH markers, alongside known appetite-modulating neuropeptide receptors (Mc4r, Cckar and Nmur2). Viral tracing demonstrated RXFP4VMH neural projections to nuclei implicated in hedonic feeding behaviour. Whole body chemogenetic inhibition (Di-DREADD) of Rxfp4-expressing cells, mimicking physiological INSL5-RXFP4 Gi-signalling, increased intake of the HFD and HPM, but not chow, whilst activation (Dq-DREADD), either at whole body level or specifically within the VMH, reduced HFD and HPM intake and motivation to work for the HPM.


These findings identify RXFP4VMH neurons as regulators of food intake and preference, and hypothalamic RXFP4 signalling as a target for feeding behaviour manipulation.