Brain region protein found to also regulate body weight

April 13, 2022
Brain region protein found to also regulate body weight

A protein closely linked to the development of various cancers such as paediatric lymphoma and certain lung cancers is suggested to also be involved in the regulation of body weight. According to scientists at Yale University (Yale), the protein known as augmentor-alpha is expressed in high levels in what are called agouti-related peptide (AgRP) neurons in the hypothalamus region of the brain; the hypothalamus region is an important regulation centre for vital body functions including reproduction, temperature control, stress response, and metabolism.

“AgRP neurons are so important for feeling hunger that without them, you wouldn’t eat. You’d die,” said Tamas Horvath, a professor of Comparative Medicine. “So, when it became clear that augmentor-alpha was dominantly expressed in these neurons, it immediately suggested that augmentor-alpha was involved in metabolism.”

[Augmentor-alpha typically binds to the anaplastic lymphoma kinase receptor (ALK) but may promote cancer in the event of a mutation.]

Through experiments on mice placed on a fasting diet, Yale scientists found the protein’s expression and activity was indeed boosted in the AgRP neurons. Mice lacking the protein were found to be more physically active and thinner compared to regular mice, regardless of whether they ate a high-fat or healthy diet. During fasting, these mice without the protein were still highly active as opposed to limiting their activity to conserve energy.

The scientists thus reason that augmentor-alpha influences signaling in the context of metabolic function – new treatments for metabolic disorders and even for eating disorders could then be based on boosting or suppressing the protein.

Professor of Pharmacology, and Co-director of the Yale Cancer Biology Institute, Joseph Schlessinger, likens augmentor-alpha to insulin in that its effects are much more widespread. Although augmentor-alpha acts very locally within the hypothalamus it could still affect other bodily processes.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface of augmentor-alpha’s role,” said Schlessinger.

Read: Excess body fat reduces cognitive function

Category: Education, Features

Comments are closed.