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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2013, Article ID 438072, 8 pages
Review Article

Environment, Leptin Sensitivity, and Hypothalamic Plasticity

1CNR Neuroscience Institute, Via Moruzzi 1, 56124 Pisa, Italy
2Department of Neuroscience, Psychology, Drug Research and Child Health NEUROFARBA, University of Florence, Via San Salvi 12, 50135 Florence, Italy
3Dulbecco Telethon Institute at Endocrinology Unit, University Hospital of Pisa, Via Paradisa 2, 56124 Pisa, Italy
4CNR Institute of Food Sciences, Via Roma 64, 83100 Avellino, Italy

Received 5 April 2013; Accepted 25 June 2013

Academic Editor: Alessandro Sale

Copyright © 2013 Marco Mainardi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Regulation of feeding behavior has been a crucial step in the interplay between leptin and the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (ARC). On one hand, the basic mechanisms regulating central and peripheral action of leptin are becoming increasingly clear. On the other hand, knowledge on how brain sensitivity to leptin can be modulated is only beginning to accumulate. This point is of paramount importance if one considers that pathologically obese subjects have high levels of plasmatic leptin. A possible strategy for exploring neural plasticity in the ARC is to act on environmental stimuli. This can be achieved with various protocols, namely, physical exercise, high-fat diet, caloric restriction, and environmental enrichment. Use of these protocols can, in turn, be exploited to isolate key molecules with translational potential. In the present review, we summarize present knowledge about the mechanisms of plasticity induced by the environment in the ARC. In addition, we also address the role of leptin in extrahypothalamic plasticity, in order to propose an integrated view of how a single diffusible factor can regulate diverse brain functions.