Sensitivity to leptin is associated with a normal regulation of the adipose mass, whereas decreased leptin sensitivity results in elevated adipose tissue stores. To address whether the effects of chronic hyperleptinemia are sustained with age, we generated transgenic mice that overexpress leptin under the control of the fat specific aP2 promoter/enhancer. At 6-9 weeks of age, transgenic mice overexpressed 5-fold more human leptin than endogenous mouse levels and had consistently low body weights, with reduced brown and white fat depots characterized by adipocytes either devoid of or containing minute lipid droplets. However, at 33-37 weeks, despite continuous secretion of human leptin, the transgenic mice showed a rebound effect characterized by an increase in body weight, accumulation of adipose mass, and lipid-filled adipocytes. Thus, this mouse model exhibits a two-stage phenotype, with respect to fat accumulation. In addition, plasma glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels were markedly depressed in young, but not older, transgenic mice. A detrimental consequence of early hyperleptinemia was a failure of the transgenic mice to acclimatize to the cold, as a result of depleted fat stores within their brown adipocytes. Cold exposure was tolerated after a 2-week high-fat diet or at an older age when fat depots had naturally accumulated. Treatment of the older transgenic mice with large doses of leptin stimulated weight loss, demonstrating that the leptin pathway still responds to pharmacological levels of leptin. Overall, these studies show that moderate hyperleptinemia in normal mice results in a sensitivity of the adipose mass to leptin at a younger (but not older) age. The mechanisms that lead to the accumulation of fat at an older age remain largely unknown, and this hyperleptinemic mouse model will allow the uncovering of at least some of these mechanisms.
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