Hunger is an essential part of our lives, something we underestimate. It’s an alert system- letting the body know when energy and nutrient reserves are down, and when they are in need of replenishment.
Hunger can lead to over-eating, a problem that leads to obesity which has increased over the world. Learning how to control hunger is of enormous interest in patients who find it difficult to lose weight.
New research has found that an enzyme, once its target is activated, lets the body know when to stop eating food. And it’s this enzyme that may hold the key to how we treat obesity in the future.
What is the brain enzyme that controls appetite?
What the research shows
Scientists of the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine conducted a study on mice to test their eating habits and the link to their brains. The focused on the OGT, a protein-coding gene. They found that when the genes coding for the enzyme were removed, the mice suddenly began to gain weight, a considerable amount of weight. This suggests that the OGT enzyme, once it activates its target, lets the body know when to stop eating food. The enzyme is essential to portion control and how the body manages food.
OGT is a key enzyme not only in hunger but other physiological processes, too. For example, OGT is vital in the regulation of insulin use and the formation of essential sugars. It works by marrying a molecule, called N-acetylglucosamine, to proteins, a function which primes the protein to do it’s biological duty. Though found somewhat serendipitously, research into OGT (how it works, and how it’s released) may now hold the key to how we fight obesity in the future.
Implications for obesity
This research may hold enormous clinical significance. New research released from The Lancet, shows that there is now more overweight than underweight people in the world. Worldwide obesity, as a whole, has more than doubled since 1980, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). With the ever rising incidence of obesity – and the concomitant rise in cardiovascular disease and diabetes – it will become essential to have effective treatments on hand to attenuate this worrying societal prognosis.
OGT might just be the solution. As an enzyme, it is coded for by genes and, once these genes are controlled, the levels of OGT release can also be controlled. Increasing the concentration of this enzyme results in greater feelings of fullness, meaning portion sizes can be reduced. However, even with this research, patients would still be advised – even if an OGT medication were available – to engage in exercise and to control the quality of the food they put into their system.
Either way, today’s research into OGT opens an exciting new pathway in the long-term fight against obesity.