Solution to overeating may lie in genetics, US scientists have discovered
Scientist have identified a ‘gluttony’ gene that tells the brain when the body is full – but when it’s not working leads to overeating.
The breakthrough discovery, in tests on mice, showed that the mice who possessed the mutated version of the Bdnf gene were not able to send chemical signals to the hypothalamus in the brain after eating, and as a result consumed twice as much food as those with the gene that functioned correctly.
Lead researcher for the study at Georgetown University Medical Center Dr Baoki Xu said, ‘If there is a problem with the Bdnf gene, neurons can’t talk to each other, and the leptin and insulin signals are ineffective and the appetite is not modified.’
One in four adults in the UK are affected by obesity. In light of the discovery researchers can now look at developing drugs that could repair the line of communication between body and brain when the Bdnf gene is faulty.
Although it could be years before a treatment is available for humans, Dr Xu said, ‘We have opened the door to both new avenues in basic research and clinical therapies, which is very exciting.’
Published in the journal Nature Medicine, the research shows that the gene forms early in the womb, and can develop into either a ‘long’ or ‘short’ version. Those born with the ‘long’ version are able to successfully control their appetite, whereas the ‘short’ version prevents chemical signals being picked up by neurons in the brain and passed along a chain to the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus is also linked to learning and memory; previous studies have shown that mice with the ‘short’ version of Bdnf experienced memory problems in addition to overeating and rapid weight gain.