OHSU researchers discover possible connection between infant hormone exposure, obesity

PORTLAND, Ore. Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University have discovered a link between exposure to the hormone leptin early in life, and brain formation that likely impacts weight regulation later in life.

The research was conducted in mice at the OHSU Oregon National Primate Research Center. Results of the study are printed in the April 2 edition of the journal Science.

"We're excited about this finding because it shows how exposure to leptin can directly affect development of brain structures involved in regulating body weight," said Richard Simerly, Ph.D., a senior scientist at ONPRC and a faculty member in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology in the OHSU School of Medicine. "While the full impact of this information is not currently known, our findings suggest a link between the developmental actions of leptin and early onset obesity."

The OHSU work is based on an earlier finding that mice experience a natural surge in leptin levels during the first weeks of life. This same surge occurs prior to birth in humans. In adult mammals, which includes both mice and humans, leptin acts on the brain to reduce food intake, a natural form of weight regulation. Until now, however, little was known about the impact of leptin early in life on the development of brain mechanisms regulating body weight.

Specifically, the OHSU scientists wanted to determine the effects of this early-life leptin surge on brain development. The researchers studied two types of mice: leptin-deficient mice and normal mice. Leptin-deficient mice are typically obese because they lack this important hormone that limits food intake.

"We were shocked by how clear the result was," explained Simerly. "Leptin plays an important role in brain development, by acting specifically on the clusters of brain cells that regulate food intake. In other words, the same hormone that helps regulate food intake later in life also regulates formation of weig

Contact: Jim Newman
Oregon Health & Science University

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