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Study of nutrients' effects on brain provides insight into appetite regulation

CINCINNATI--A cell-signaling pathway in the brain that is linked to the development of cancer and diabetes is also a key part of networks that regulate food intake, say University of Cincinnati (UC) researchers.

The finding might one day lead to new ways of helping obese people lose weight, either with new drugs or by carefully designing diets that can activate this pathway.

Scientists from UC's Genome Research Institute demonstrated that the signaling pathway mTOR--activated by nutrient and hormonal signals--plays a role in the brain's ability to sense how much energy the body has available.

This finding, the researchers say, suggests that very specific micronutrients may drive these pathways in the brain and could lead to a more scientific approach to diet design to help regulate body weight.

The study, led by Randy Seeley, PhD, professor in UC's psychiatry department, appears in the May 12, 2006 issue of the journal Science.

Ingesting calories (energy in the form of nutrients) has two purposes, says Dr. Seeley.

"We take in calories to maintain levels of stored fuel (energy) and adequate available fuel," he says. "The signals that tell our brain about both the stored and the available energy in our body can activate the mTOR pathway in key parts of the brain that control appetite."

Knowing that mTOR basically serves as a "check-point" for sensing energy changes, the researchers predicted that it could be manipulated to alter food intake.

The mTOR pathway is very sensitive to "branched-chain" amino acids, particularly leucine, Dr. Seeley explains. In laboratory studies, he and his team found that when they administered leucine directly to the hypothalamus, a brain region that controls a number of metabolic processes, animals ate less.

Other, similar amino acids did not give the same results.

This animal study, says Dr. Seeley, could eventually have implications for human o
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Contact: Dama Kimmon
dama.kimmon@uc.edu
513-558-4559
University of Cincinnati
11-May-2006


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