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Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have found that the hormone also acts on other types of cells to control appetite - a discovery that could lead to development of treatments for metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes. 'Until now, the scientific community thought that leptin acts exclusively in neurons to modulate behaviour and body weight,' said Tamas Horvath, the Jean and David W. Wallace professor of biomedical research at Yale School of Medicine.
Leptin, a naturally occurring hormone, is known for its hunger-blocking effect on the hypothalamus, a region in the brain. Food intake is influenced by signals that travel from the body to the brain. Leptin is one of the molecules that signal the brain to modulate food intake. It is produced in fat cells and informs the brain of the metabolic state. If animals are missing leptin, or the leptin receptor, they eat too much and become much too obese. (Read: How obesity, satisfaction and where you live are linked)
To test the theory, Horvath and his team selectively knocked out leptin receptors in the adult non-neuronal glial cells of mice. They found that animals responded less to feeding reducing effects of leptin but had heightened feeding responses to the hunger hormone ghrelin. 'Glial cells provide the main barrier between the periphery and the brain. Thus glial cells could be targeted for drugs that treat metabolic disorders, including obesity and diabetes,' Horvath noted. (Read: Sleeping with lights on can make you obese: Study)
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