Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Centre have revealed how a single gene mutation leads to uncontrolled obesity.
This could offer insights on how to control brain sensitivity to leptin and insulin.
The research has found that a single gene is to blame for the inability of neurons to effectively pass on appetite suppressing signals that are sent from the body to the right place in the brain. This leads to an unquenchable appetite, which in turn leads to obesity.
The research could open up new strategies on how the brain controls weight by stimulating the expression of the gene. Leptin and insulin chemicals are signals sent to the brain after a person eats, which tells the body to stop eating. However, if this signal isn’t properly delivered, eating continues.
The study's senior investigator, Baoji Xu, Ph.D., an associate professor of pharmacology and physiology at Georgetown said: "This is the first time protein synthesis in dendrites, tree-like extensions of neurons, has been found to be critical for control of weight."
"This discovery may open up novel strategies to help the brain control body weight," he added.
Xu has researched the Bdnf gene for some time, and has discovered that the gene produces a growth factor that controls communication between neurons. One such experiment found that during development, Bdnf is important to synapses, which is the structure that permits neurons to send chemical signals between them.
Large-scale genome-wide association studies have shown that the Bdnf gene variants are linked to obesity, however until now, no one has been able to directly link the gene with body weight. The new data shows that both leptin and insulin stimulate synthesis of BDNF in neuronal dendrites as a way of passing their chemical message between neurons through synapses.
If leptin and insulin chemicals keep moving, the hormones will turn on a program that suppresses appetite, which could lead to eating habits being controlled.