Extra Brain Cells Jump Start Weight Loss

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According to Nature.com, researchers have discovered that an injection of a drug used to promote the growth of new brain cells also has the effect of causing weight loss, as much as 15%, in laboratory mice. Scientists are hoping that they can harness this side-effect, which lasts for at least several weeks, to fight obesity in humans.

This new discovery was prompted by research in the 1990’s of treatments for ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The drug studied, Axokine, didn’t alleviate the symptoms of ALS, but many people participating in the study claimed to experience a decrease in appetite. Clinical trials studying the drug’s ability to treat obesity were not successful, but researchers still believed that similar drugs may still work.

Enter Jeffrey Flier of the Harvard Medical School in Boston. His team is studying a compound similar to Axokine called ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF). It also stimulates the growth of neural cells. The CNTF is injected along with a compound that dyes new brain cells green into the brains of mice, specifically into the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that controls body temperature, hunger and thirst, and circadian cycles. The mice were put on a high-fat and high-sugar diet, and then began a course of CNTF injections. They lost on average 16% of their body weight and did not gain it back during ensuing weeks of the experiment, even while continuing on their junk food diet.

Because of the dye, researchers were able to confirm that the mice did grow significant quantities of new neural cells in their hypothalami. The exact cause of the weight loss is not known, but the scientists believe that the extra neural cells help to make the hypothalamus more sensitive to leptin, a protein hormone that plays a key role in metabolism and appetite control. This is just a working theory, and there is still a lot of research to be done before any firm conclusions are drawn, and obesity treatments are developed.

Read the full article at Nature.com: “Extra brain cells curb appetite

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