A protein found in cells throughout the body must exist in a specific set of brain neurons to prevent weight gain after chronic feeding on high-calorie meals, revealed a study by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Nicknamed the "longevity" protein because of its apparent role in mediating the effects of dietary restriction on life span, SIRT1 has been studied as a potential target for anti-aging drugs.
Prior research has also shown that this metabolic sensor protein in peripheral tissues plays an important role in regulating metabolism, but its physiological relevance in brain neurons remained unclear.
"This is the first study to show that SIRT1 in hypothalamic neurons, specifically POMC neurons, is required for preventing diet-induced obesity and maintaining normal body weight," said Dr. Roberto Coppari, senior author of the mouse study,
POMC, or pro-opiomelanocortin, neurons are found in the hypothalamus region of the brain and are known to play an important role in suppressing appetite and inducing weight loss. There are about 3,000 POMC neurons in a mouse brain.
The researchers genetically engineered mice to lack SIRT1 only in these specific hypothalamic neurons.
They found that when fed a high-calorie diet, the mice lacking SIRT1 in POMC neurons gained more weight and were generally more susceptible to diet-induced obesity than those with the metabolic sensor protein intact.
The mutant mice also had almost twice as much abdominal fat and more of the hormone leptin than those mice with their SIRT1 intact, despite the fact that all the mice maintained the same food intake and movement levels...