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Leptin influences brain cells that control appetite

Glial cells could be targeted for drugs that treat metabolic disorders, including obesity and diabetes

In addition to influencing neurons to help regulate metabolism, appetite, and weight Leptin also acts on other types of cells to control appetite, according to researchers from the Yale School of Medicine. The findings could lead to development of treatments for metabolic disorders.

"Up until now, the scientific community thought that leptin acts exclusively in neurons to modulate behaviour and body weight," said senior author, Dr Tamas Horvath, the Jean and David W Wallace Professor of Biomedical Research and chair of comparative medicine at Yale. "This work is now changing that paradigm."

Leptin is a naturally occurring hormone known for its hunger-blocking effect on the hypothalamus and 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 severely obese.

Leptin's effect on metabolism has been found to control the brain's neuronal circuits, but no previous studies have definitively found that leptin could control the behaviour of cells other than neurons.

In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Horvath and his team selectively knocked out leptin receptors in the adult non-neuronal glial cells of mice. The team then recorded the water and food intake, as well as physical activity every five days.

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," added Horvath. "Thus glial cells could be targeted for drugs that treat metabolic disorders, including obesity and diabetes."

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