Free radicals crucial to suppressing appetite, study finds

August 28, 2011, Yale University
This image shows satiety promoting melanocortin neurons (green) in the hypothalamus, some of which are activated (red nuclei) after treatment. Credit: Tamas Horvath, Yale University

Obesity is growing at alarming rates worldwide, and the biggest culprit is overeating. In a study of brain circuits that control hunger and satiety, Yale School of Medicine researchers have found that molecular mechanisms controlling free radicals—molecules tied to aging and tissue damage—are at the heart of increased appetite in diet-induced obesity.

Published Aug. 28 in the advanced online issue of Nature Medicine, the study found that elevating free radical levels in the hypothalamus directly or indirectly suppresses in obese mice by activating satiety-promoting melanocortin neurons. Free radicals, however, are also thought to drive the aging process.

"It's a catch-22," said senior author Tamas Horvath, the Jean and David W. Wallace Professor of Biomedical Research, chair of comparative medicine and director of the Yale Program on Integrative Cell Signaling and Neurobiology of Metabolism. "On one hand, you must have these critical signaling molecules to stop eating. On the other hand, if exposed to them chronically, free radicals damage cells and promote aging."

"That's why, in response to continuous overeating, a cellular mechanism kicks in to suppress the generation of these free radicals," added lead author Sabrina Diano, associate professor of Ob/Gyn, neurobiology and comparative medicine. "While this free radical-suppressing mechanism—promoted by growth of intracellular organelles, called peroxisomes—protects the cells from damage, this same process will decrease the ability to feel full after eating."

After the mice ate, the team saw that the neurons responsible for stopping overeating had high levels of free radicals. This process is driven by the hormone leptin and glucose, which signal the brain to modulate food intake. When mice eat, leptin and glucose levels go up, as does free radical levels. However, in mice with diet-induced obesity, these same neurons display impaired firing and activity (leptin resistance); in these mice, levels of free radicals were buffered by peroxisomes, preventing the activation of these neurons and thus the ability to feel sated after eating.

According to Horvath and Diano, the crucial role of free radicals in promoting satiety as well as degenerative processes associated with aging may explain why it has been difficult to develop successful therapeutic strategies for without major side effects. Current studies address the question of whether, under any circumstance, satiety could be promoted without sustained elevation of in the brain and periphery.

More information: Nature Medicine, DOI: 10.1038/nm.2421

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...

Magnetically applied MicroRNAs could one day help relieve constipation

January 17, 2018
Constipation is an underestimated and debilitating medical issue related to the opioid epidemic. As a growing concern, researchers look to new tools to help patients with this side effect of opioid use and aging.

Researchers devise decoy molecule to block pain where it starts

January 16, 2018
For anyone who has accidentally injured themselves, Dr. Zachary Campbell not only sympathizes, he's developing new ways to blunt pain.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.