So much for willpower: Body fat, appetite controlled by brain protein NPGL

Why must our brains betray us so? A newly-found brain protein called NPGL appears to increase our body’s fat storage, even when we’re doing our best to stay on a low-calorie diet. To make matters worse, it makes us hungrier when exposed to high-calorie foods.

Human evolution was pretty successful throughout the eons at keep us homo sapiens appropriately weighty, helping us put on fat during times of famine. But in an era of “extreme food abundance,” many of us overeat and grow obese. It seems our brains have not caught up to our circumstances. The finding that the brain chemical NPGL regulates hunger and fat storage in mammals could make a big impact on how the health care industry tackles obesity and related illnesses. The new research comes from teams at Japan’s Hiroshima University and UC Berkeley in California.

Scientists took two groups of rats, and fed them markedly different diets: One high in fat and sugar, the other only a baseline of calories to keep them alive. But after infecting both groups with a virus that would produce gobs of NPGL in their rat brains, the low-calories animals saw their body fat percentages climb. (Not surprisingly, the fat-and-sweets group did too.)

Here’s where it gets interesting, and the possibility of an obesity treatment may come into p;ay: When the rats on the high-calorie diet were given an NPGL antibody, their body fat percentages dropped. even though they kept eating the same amount of food and lost no overall weight.

The scientists found that NPGL and blood insulin levels also rose and fell in sync, suggesting a neurochemical system where signals from the brain and other tissues combine to monitor the body’s energetic status and adjust feeding and metabolism accordingly.

Said the researchers in a written statement: “This latest research into NPGL has greatly increased our understanding and should guide scientists in finding ways to assist the evolutionary-survivalist human body to adapt to a calorie-intense 21st century environment.”

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