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UCLA scientists discover hormone may spur dramatic weight loss

The only known adults in the world who possess a rare genetic mutation that prevents their bodies from producing leptin may open the door to a new way of fighting fat. After injections with leptin -- a human hormone linked to appetite control -- the adults' dramatic weight loss suggests that leptin offers significant promise for treating obesity.

Dr. Julio Licinio, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, flew three cousins -- two women and one man -- from a tiny village in Turkey to UCLA Medical Center last September for clinical research treatment with leptin. Ranging in age from the late 20s to 40, all of the cousins were severely obese and one was still prepubescent.

"We hypothesized that leptin deficiency may lead to obesity and, in some cases, delay sexual and psychological maturity," explained Licinio, also a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. "Although this is a small study, it produced striking results."

Ten months after the study began, the three adults have lost half of their body weight -- more than 150 pounds each. But the leptin therapy resulted in dramatic outcomes beyond their weight loss, including physiological and personality changes.

After receiving leptin injections, the prepubescent adult began experiencing a wide range of physiological changes associated with adolescence and rapidly reached sexual maturity. In addition, UCLA researchers observed neurological growth in all three participants.

"At the end of the study, we measured the subjects' brains with MRI and discovered that the organs had expanded a small but significant amount," Licinio said. "While the relevance of this outcome is currently unclear, it poses the first known instance of brain growth in adults."

Earlier research conducted on laboratory animals born without the ability to make leptin showed that they possessed brains 30 percent smaller than th
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Contact: Elaine Schmidt
310-794-2272
University of California - Los Angeles
22-Jul-2002


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