Neuropeptide Y (NPY) has a number of functions in mammalian physiology. Here we identify a role for NPY in promoting proliferation of postnatal neuronal precursor cells. NPY is synthesized in the postnatal olfactory epithelium by sustentacular cells, previously proposed to function only in structural support. Mice with a targeted deletion of NPY contain half as many dividing olfactory neuronal precursor cells as do controls. Furthermore, NPY-deficient mice develop significantly fewer olfactory neurons by adulthood. NPY acts on multipotent neuronal precursor or basal cells to activate rapidly and transiently the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2 subgroup of mitogen-activated protein kinases. The NPY Y1 receptor subtype appears to mediate this effect. The ability of NPY to induce neuronal precursor proliferation is mediated by protein kinase C (PKC), indicating an upstream PKC-dependent activation of ERK1/2. These results indicate that NPY may regulate neuronal precursor proliferation in the adult mammal.
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