Opening doors to development of new drugs to control weight gain and obesity, researchers have identified brain cells that play a crucial role in appetite control.
Although these cells — known as NG2-glia cells — exist within different parts of the brain, it is those found in a specific brain structure called the median eminence that are crucial to weight control, the findings showed.
“About 20 years ago there was a big step forward in our understanding of obesity when researchers discovered that our appetite is controlled by a key molecule called leptin. Leptin is a hormone which is produced by our fat cells, and is delivered by the blood to the brain to signal the brain that we are full and can stop eating,” explained one of the researchers Maia Kokoeva from McGill University in Monthreal, Canada.
“But even though receptors for leptin were discovered soon after in the hypothalamus, a brain area that regulates food intake and body weight, it has remained unclear how exactly leptin is detected,” Kokoeva noted.
So the researchers set out to explore which brain cells might play a role in the process of leptin sensing and weight gain.
The answer, it turns out according to the new research, lies in the NG2-glia cells in median eminence.
The median eminence is a brain structure at the base of the hypothalamus. It is a bit like a busy hub or market place through which hormones and molecules of various kinds travel in both directions between the brain and the bloodstream to ensure that the body functions smoothly.
The research team discovered that without a particular group of cells (NG2-glia cells) in place in the median eminence, the leptin receptors in the brain never receive the messages from the body telling it that it is sated.
The findings were published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
The researchers are hopeful that the identification of these cells in the median eminence as crucial elements in body weight and appetite control will pave the way to new targeted anti-obesity approaches directed towards maintaining or raising the NG2-glia population in the median eminence.