Hot fudge sundaes and french fries aside, new research suggests obesity is due at least in part to an attraction between leptin, the hormone that signals the brain when to stop eating, and a protein more recently associated with heart disease. Reporting in Nature Medicine, University of Pittsburgh researchers provide evidence that C-reactive protein (CRP) not only binds to leptin but its hold impairs leptins role in controlling appetite. The results may help explain why obese people have so much trouble losing weight as well as point to a different target for the pharmaceutical treatment of obesity.
"Theres been a lot of interest in leptin as a means to curb appetite and reduce weight but clinical trials have had disappointing results. Our studies suggest an approach that should be further studied is one that disrupts the interaction between leptin and CRP, thereby restoring leptins ability for signaling. We need to better understand how this interaction works and investigate the underlying mechanisms involved," said Allan Z. Zhao, Ph.D., assistant professor of cell biology and physiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and the studys senior author.
Leptin is secreted by fat – the more fat, the more leptin – yet it is named for the Greek word leptos, which means "thin." In a region of the brain called the hypothalamus, leptin binds to receptors residing on the surface of neurons, setting off signals that tell the brain to stop eating and the body to expend energy by burning calories. While obese people produce much higher levels of leptin than thin and normal-weight individuals, they are somehow resistant to its effects. Dr. Zhao and his co-authors believe the binding of CRP to leptin may be the reason this is so. Their argument seems all the more plausible since CRP also is elevated in obese people. CRP, which is produced by the liver and typically rises as part of the immune systems inflammatory response, is gaining favor as a marker for hypertension and heart disease risk, known complications of obesity.
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