...Childs' discovery has to do with leptin, a hormone that's known to control appetite by acting on specific neurons in the brain. Past studies of leptin have focused on leptin's function within the brain. Childs' study focused on leptin receptors that are on growth hormone cells in the pituitary, which, in addition to stimulating growth of bones and muscle, play a key role in breaking down fat.
In Childs' study, the leptin receptor gene in growth hormone cells was removed in mice. The original purpose was to observe the effects on reproduction, because both leptin and growth hormone are known to be involved in the timing of puberty. However, Childs noticed that whereas puberty was normal, the male mice were becoming overweight as they reached adulthood and the female mice became overweight several months later.
"Tests of serum leptin and leptin receptor levels in the brain suggested that normal leptin is available to effectively control their appetite, and yet they still are gaining weight," Childs said of the genetically altered mice.
She concluded that the obesity was caused by removing the leptin receptor on the mice's growth hormone cells (pituitary somatotropes).
"This is very new; everyone had thought that leptin's most important functions were in the brain to control appetite," she said.
The overweight mice had 60 percent fewer growth hormone cells than the control mice, which means they did not produce enough growth hormone to break down fat as effectively as the control mice. This shows how important leptin is to the maintenance of a normal population of growth hormone cells. It also shows how important growth hormone is to the optimization of body composition including fat...