We examined the effects of the adipose hormone leptin on the development of mouse cortical neurons. Treatment of neonatal and adult mice with intraperitoneal leptin (5 mg/kg) induced extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) 1/2 phosphorylation in pyriform and entorhinal cortex neurons. Stimulation of cultured embryonic cortical neurons with leptin evoked Janus kinase 2 and ERK1/2 phosphorylation and activated the downstream effector 90-kDa ribosomal protein S6 kinase. Moreover, leptin elicited the phosphorylation of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase effector Akt and evoked Ser-9 phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase-3β (GSK3β), an event inactivating this kinase. Leptin-mediated GSK3β phosphorylation was prevented by the MEK/ERK inhibitor PD98059, the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase inhibitor LY294002, or the protein kinase C inhibitor GF109203X. Exposure of cortical neurons to leptin also induced Ser-41 phosphorylation of the neuronal growth-associated protein GAP-43, an effect prevented by LY294002 and GF109203X but not by PD98059. Ser-41-GAP-43 phosphorylation is usually high in expanding axonal growth cones. Neurons exposed to 100 ng/ml leptin for 72 h displayed reduced rate of growth cone collapse, a shift of growth cone size distribution toward higher values, and a 4-fold increase in mean growth cone surface area compared with control cultures. The leptin-induced growth cone spreading was hampered in cortical neurons from Leprdb/db mice lacking functional leptin receptors; it was associated with localized Ser-9-GSK3β phosphorylation and mimicked by the GSK3β inhibitor SB216763. At concentrations preventing GSK3β phosphorylation, PD98059, LY294002, or GF109203X reversed the leptin-induced growth cone surface enlargement. We concluded that the leptin-mediated regulation of growth cone morphogenesis in cortical neurons relies on upstream regulators of GSK3β activity.
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