Plasticity of central autonomic neural circuits in diabetes

Andrea Zsombok, Bret N. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Regulation of energy metabolism is controlled by the brain, in which key central neuronal circuits process a variety of information reflecting nutritional state. Special sensory and gastrointestinal afferent neural signals, along with blood-borne metabolic signals, impinge on parallel central autonomic circuits located in the brainstem and hypothalamus to signal changes in metabolic balance. Specifically, neural and humoral signals converge on the brainstem vagal system and similar signals concentrate in the hypothalamus, with significant overlap between both sensory and motor components of each system and extensive cross-talk between the systems. This ultimately results in production of coordinated regulatory autonomic and neuroendocrine cues to maintain energy homeostasis. Therapeutic metabolic adjustments can be accomplished by modulating viscerosensory input or autonomic motor output, including altering parasympathetic circuitry related to GI, pancreas, and liver regulation. These alterations can include pharmacological manipulation, but surgical modification of neural signaling should also be considered. In addition, central control of visceral function is often compromised by diabetes mellitus, indicating that circuit modification should be studied in the context of its effect on neurons in the diabetic state. Diabetes has traditionally been handled as a peripheral metabolic disease, but the central nervous system plays a crucial role in regulating glucose homeostasis. This review focuses on key autonomic brain areas associated with management of energy homeostasis and functional changes in these areas associated with the development of diabetes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-431
Number of pages9
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular Basis of Disease
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by NIH (DK056132) and the University of Kentucky Research Foundation.


  • Brainstem
  • Cannabinoid
  • Glucose
  • Hypothalamus
  • Paraventricular
  • Vagus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology


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