Researchers have recently shed light on a certain protein that may provide an answer to how the brain regulates body weight and its related food intake. This answer brings new understandings that may also lead to improved avenues in obesity treatment.
The answer may lie in how a certain protein relates to another protein
The protein, called alpha2/delta-1 has previously not been linked to obesity. A research team out of the Tufts University School of Medicine discovered that this protein aids in the functioning of a different protein, named brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is critical in suppressing the appetite. A recent study has identified an important mechanism that interrupts the effects of BDNF, in which scientists think may be related to the mediation of overeating.
What happens when BDNF protein levels fluctuate
When the brain is experiencing a deficiency in the BDNF protein, the result is excess food intake that has been linked to obesity. It is now known that the alpha2/delta-1 protein is a necessary component in regular BDNF function. This gives scientists an improved target for where to aim new and improved obesity treatments, according to members of Tufts’ Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.
When BDNF levels are abnormally low, scientists have observed a decrease in the normal function of the alpha2/delta-1 protein in the hypothalamus, which is a region of the brain critical in food intake management and weight regulation. When the alpha2/delta-1 protein is inhibited, food intake increases, as well as weight. When normal levels of alpha2/delta-1 are restored, food intake reduces significantly, as well as weight gain. This also results in a reduction of hypoglycemia and glucose metabolism deficiency, which are metabolic disturbances related to obesity.
How this protein affects people
Some people who take gabapentin and pregabalin (epilepsy medications) have reported weight gain. These medications are anticonvulsants and help to treat nerve pain in patients. Findings are beginning to show that these drugs interfere with alpha2/delta-1 levels in the hypothalamus, which may contribute to weight gain.
Not only do these findings allow researchers to improve treatments for patients on these medications in order to prevent weight gain, they also provide a greater understanding of the neuroscience and biology of appetite control. The next step for scientists is to delve deeper into the mechanisms related to feelings of satiety in relation to varied levels of alpha2/delta-1 levels in the hypothalamus.