Why do people become obese? Poor dietary choices and overeating seem like clear causes, but what is at the root of these behaviors? Significantly overweight people may be genetically predisposed to be affected disproportionately when faced with the ready availability of calorie-laden treats. It appears, in others words, that some people’s genes place them at particular risk of gaining more weight than others in the modern food landscape. Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) report in the January 10, 2017 issue of Cell Metabolism that they have created the first model of genetically induced obesity in fruit flies. The model can be used to study ways to dodge adverse health effects triggered by the perfect storm of genetic predisposition to obesity and calorie-rich, nutrient-poor diets. The Cell Metabolism article is titled “A Leptin Analog Locally Produced in the Brain Acts Via a Conserved Neural Circuit to Modulate Obesity-Linked Behaviors in Drosophila” Lead investigator Jen Beshel, Ph.D., who conducted the experiments while performing postdoctoral research in the laboratories of Yi Zhong, Ph.D. and Josh Dubnau, Ph.D., explains that a hormone in the fly, called unpaired 1, performs the same function as the hormone leptin in people: After its release from cells, it docks with receptors in the brain to tell the body to stop eating. Leptin is the famous dispatcher of what scientists call the “satiety” signal—the one that tells you you’re full. The idea of therapeutically administering leptin to obese people to overcome a genetically induced failure of leptin signaling emerged from research in mice first conducted at Rockefeller University in the 1990s. Dr. Beshel’s research breaks new ground.
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