Friday, 5 April 2013

Researchers discover appetite stem cells that could treat obesity

A new study published today by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) may hold the key to treating obesity and other eating disorders.

Up until now, researchers believed that the brain nerves regulating our appetite are only created once, sometime during our embryonic life. However, the UEA researchers showed that this might be false as they discovered, in mice, the existence of a new stem cell population that has the capacity to transform into appetite neurons.

During the study, the researchers explored the hypothalamus area of the brain. In humans, the hypothalamus is a small portion of the brain regulating several functions, including sleep, energy expenditure, the secretion of pituitary hormones, thirst and appetite. The researchers focused their study on the neurons that control appetite.

Location of Hypothalamus

Then, the researchers used a technique known as ''genetic fate mapping''. Essentially, this is a technique that allows scientists to find from which cells a tissue originates from. This led them to a cell population called "tanycytes". The researchers say that these cells have a stem cell-like nature, being able to generate new, appetite controlling neurons. This ability is even maintained even during adulthood.

The researchers seem to be very excited with their discovery. Dr Mohammad K. Hajihosseini, leading author of the study, said:

"Unlike dieting, translation of this discovery could eventually offer a permanent solution for tackling obesity."

Hajihosseini says that many times the underlying reason behind obesity, or other eating disorders, is that the appetite-neurons die or get damaged. However, their findings may allow the development of new drugs that could promote the regeneration of these neurons.

"The next step is to define the group of genes and cellular processes that regulate the behaviour and activity of tanycytes. This information will further our understanding of brain stem cells and could be exploited to develop drugs that can modulate the number or functioning of appetite-regulating neurons." said Mohammad Hajihosseini

Finally, Hajihosseini said that the study has potential applications both in infants and adults, however there is still a long way to go, before we see any applications on humans

"Our long-term goal of course is to translate this work to humans, which could take up to five or 10 years. It could lead to a permanent intervention in infancy for those predisposed to obesity, or later in life as the disease becomes apparent." said Mohammad Hajihosseini

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Haan N, Goodman T, Najdi-Samiei A, Stratford CM, Rice R, El Agha E, Bellusci S, & Hajihosseini MK (2013). Fgf10-expressing tanycytes add new neurons to the appetite/energy-balance regulating centers of the postnatal and adult hypothalamus. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 33 (14), 6170-80 PMID: 23554498