A collection of chubby lab mice has led to a huge breakthrough, but scientists remain uncertain about the obesity epidemic.
Obesity is one of the biggest health issues facing the U.S., and scientists still struggle to come up with a solid way of addressing it. According to a recent study from scientists at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, however, a discovery inside the brains of chubby lab mice could change our understanding of the obesity epidemic entirely.
Scientists were originally working with lab mice to study the way the brain learns and remembers information when they noticed that the mice were gaining a lot of weight. They stumbled upon a specific type of nerve cell that had a huge influence on the mice’s eating behaviors, which could play a huge role in the fight against obesity.
According to Richard Huganir, the director of the Hopkins Department of Neuroscience, “When the type of brain cell we discovered fires and sends off signals, our laboratory mice stop eating soon after. The signals seem to tell the mice they’ve had enough.”
The discovery sheds light on one of the most troubling aspects of obesity – the inability to stop eating. Hormones in the stomach normally tell the brain when enough food is consumed, but people suffering from obesity fail to receive the message and continue to eat.
The new discovery focused on an enzyme called OGT, which is involved in a wide range of bodily functions. The enzyme adds a derivative of glucose to proteins, altering their behavior in the context of the brain. To assess the roll of the enzyme in feeding behavior, the team deleted the gene that codes for it in the brains of adult mice.
The mice without OGT genes were observed eating more calories with each meal and packing on a significant amount of fat. Researchers say that the mice were unable to determine when they have had enough food, so they continued to eat even after they fulfilled their daily calorie requirements.
The study could steer obesity research towards medications that regulate OGT and its role in eating behaviors, allowing people to feel full before they reach dangerous levels of overeating.