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Researchers Find a New Way of Regulating Appetite in the Brain

Update Date: Apr 05, 2013 11:35 AM EDT

With over half a billion obese adults in the global community, obesity is considered an international epidemic. Obesity, which is preventable, is one of the biggest contributing factors of health complications, such as heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes. Previous research into obesity and the human body and genetic makeup revealed that certain nerve cells are responsible for one's appetite. These nerve cells were believed to be only produced during the development of the embryo in the womb. However, new research suggests that nerve cells might not be the only cells responsible for appetite regulation.

The researchers from the University of East Anglia discovered a group of stem cells that were able to regenerate new neurons that would be responsible for regulating appetite. These stem cells were found in the brains of young and adult rodents. The researchers started their research in the hypothalamus area, which is responsible for regulating sleep, energy, appetite, hormones and other regulatory functions, in the brain. They focused on the nerve cells that were believed to be directly linked to appetite. Through the use of genetic fate mapping techniques, the researchers were able to monitor the production of stem cells and the cells that came from these stem cells at different stages of the rodent' life.

The lead researcher, Dr. Mohammad K. Hajihosseini, and colleagues reported the discovery of "tanycytes," which were brain cells that acted like stem cells and contributed to the production of new neurons that were able to regulate appetite at later stages of life.

"Unlike dieting, translation of this discovery could eventually offer a permanent solution for tackling obesity," Hajihosseini, who is from the Biological Sciences school at the University. "Until recently we thought that all of these nerve cells were generated during the embryonic period and so the circuitry that controls appetite was fixed. But this study has shown that the neural circuitry that controls appetite is not fixed in number and could possibly be manipulated numerically to tackle eating disorders."

The researchers of this study believe that the findings can help with future treatments options for people with obesity. If the biological mechanisms can be altered to regulate appetite better, people might have an easier time losing weight and avoiding overeating. Not only does obesity kill over 2.8 million people a year, it costs countries a lot of money to control and handle the condition.

The study was published in the journal, Neuroscience

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