People who are overweight or obese often claim they are unable to control their desire to keep on munching on delights, but science might have found an on/off switch in the brain.
According to a study conducted on mice, there are some brain cells that can stop over-eating by sending signals to other parts of the brain. Researchers believe this discovery could pave the way for potential anti-obesity treatments.
In the study, mice ate 25 percent less in a day when these cells fired signals to other parts of the brain. Richard Huganir, director at the Johns Hopkins University in the US, said the laboratory mice stopped eating soon after these brain cells activated and fired up.
When researchers switched off the so-called satiety cells in the brain, the mice ended up eating more, as if they didn’t know anymore when they had enough to eat. These mice almost doubled their weight over the course of three weeks.
Published in the journal Science, the study adds significant insight into how the brain can tell animals when to stop eating. If the same mechanism can be found in humans, the discovery could lead to new methods for fighting the obesity epidemic.
Researchers located the cells in a tiny brain region known as the para-ventricular nucleus which was already associated with sending and receiving food-related signals.
This process was aided by a particular enzyme called OGT – a biological catalyst that assists in other bodily functions, such as insulin use and sugar.
OGT’s role was to stimulate synaptic connections between the cells. Synaptic connections are the chemical or electrical signals passed from a neuron to the other.
When the gene responsible with the OGT was ‘switched off,’ the mice ended up eating more. Even though they had the same number of meals as the control mice group, they were found to eat much bigger portions.
At the same time, the lack of OGT seemed to mess up the animal’s ability to realize when they were full, which led scientists to believe that OGT helps maintain synapses.
Olof Lagerlof, graduate student from Johns Hopkins University, explained that the lab mice just didn’t know when they ate enough food because their brain no longer sent satiety signals, so they kept eating and getting fat.
Lagerlof hopes that the new connection between feeding behavior and brain activity will be found in in other animals, as well. This could advance the search for means of controlling appetites.
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