Currently, there are more than 1.4 billion adults worldwide who are overweight and 0.5 billion of those are obese. There are many health problems associated with obesity including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Each year 2.8 million people die as a result of being overweight or obese and it costs the NHS an astronomical £5 billion every year! With these figures in mind it is not difficult to see why researchers continue to focus on ways in which we can reduce these figures.
It was previously thought that the nerve cells in the brain associated with appetite regulation were generated entirely during embryo development and therefore numbers were fixed for life. Now, researchers at the University of East Anglia have made a discovery that could offer a long term solution to eating disorders and help tackle obesity. There is a population of stem cells capable of generating new appetite-regulating neurons.
Scientists investigated the hypothalamus section of the brain which regulates appetite and thirst among many other biological functions such as sleep cycles, energy expenditure and hormone release. They established that a population of brain cells called ‘Tanycytes’ behave like stem cells and add new neurons to the appetite-regulating circuitry of the brain after birth and into adulthood.
Unlike dieting, which has mixed success in overweight and obese individuals, translation of this discovery could eventually offer a permanent solution for tackling obesity. It could lead to a permanent intervention in infancy for those predisposed to obesity or later in life as the disease becomes apparent.
Haan N, Goodman T, Najdi-Samiei A, Stratford CM, Rice R, El Agha E, Bellusci S, Hajihosseini MK, Fgf10-Expressing Tanycytes Add New Neurons to the Appetite/Energy-Balance Regulating Centres of the Postnatal and Adult Hypothalamus, Journal of Neuroscience, 2013, 33(14):6170.