Tackling Obesity By Targeting Brain Cells

By inhibiting a protein called TSPO in specific cells of the brain, researchers in South Korea have found a way to induce weight loss in mice.

AsianScientist (Oct. 15, 2019) – A team of scientists in South Korea has discovered a protein that could be targeted to treat high fat diet-induced obesity. Their findings are published in the journal Autophagy.

Modern day diets which tend to contain large amounts of fat have resulted in an epidemic of metabolic diseases such as obesity. To prevent and treat metabolic diseases, it is important to decrease appetite and increase energy consumption.

Based on the knowledge that tanycytes—special cells in the brain—detect nutrients in food and control appetite, Dr. Kim Eun-Kyoung of Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea, hypothesized that these brain cells could be targeted to treat obesity.

His research group first identified a protein called TSPO that responds to overnutrition signals and controls lipid and energy metabolism. TSPO is located inside a cell compartment known as the mitochondria and can be inhibited by the compound PK11195.

When mice fed with a high fat diet had PK11195 directly injected into the region of the brain containing tanycytes, their food intake was reduced and their energy expenditure was elevated, leading to weight loss. Probing deeper, the researchers demonstrated that the inhibition of TSPO induces lipophagy—the breakdown of lipid droplets—in tanycytes, resulting in the release of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate which plays essential roles in cellular energy metabolism.

The findings suggest that drugs that dampen or block the activity of TSPO in tanycytes may be effective for preventing obesity. Further studies need to be performed to confirm if the mechanism is active in humans.

The article can be found at: Kim et al. (2019) Tanycytic TSPO Inhibition Induces Lipophagy to Regulate Lipid Metabolism and Improve Energy Balance.


Source: Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology; Photo: Shutterstock.
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