Research highlight

New neurons, a recipe for obesity?

Nature Neuroscience

March 26, 2012

A high fat diet in mice may cause an increase in the production of new neurons in a region of the brain known to regulate feeding behavior and energy usage reports a paper published online this week in Nature Neuroscience. If a similar mechanism is found in humans, these findings may present a new target for potential therapeutic intervention aimed at combating diet-induced weight gain and obesity.

The hypothalamus is a region of the brain involved in the regulation of many metabolic processes, including control of food intake, hormone secretion and energy expenditure. Seth Blackshaw and colleagues found that new neurons are being produced in a distinct region of the hypothalamus called the median eminence and that the production of these neurons is enhanced in mice fed a high-fat diet. If they block the formation of these new neurons, the authors find that the mice gained significantly less weight and exhibited increased energy consumption, even when fed a high-fat diet.

Consumption of foods high in fat has been associated with a number of health issues, including obesity. The results of this study suggest that some of these effects may be mediated by the formation of new hypothalamic neurons which, in turn, may decrease energy use and promote storage of this excess energy in the form of fat.

doi: 10.1038/nn.3079

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