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Fruit Fly Hormone – An Important Discovery In Battle Against Obesity

By Rob Poulos...

The discovery of an important metabolic hormone, thought only to be present in vertebrates, has been discovered in the fruit fly, according to researchers who’s findings were recently published in Cell. This hormone, known as leptin, is considered a nutrient sensor and regulates the intake and output of energy and is the primary controlling factor of the appetite. Because of this, it’s of great interest to those conducting obesity and diabetes research, from a molecular standpoint.

Before this discovery, only more complicated mammals and their use of this all-important hormone had been studied, primarily mice. But with the new results from this discovery, now fruit flies can be studied to find more insight into molecular beginnings of fat. According to one of the authors of the paper revealing these new discoveries, Akhila Rajan, the leptin hormone is a very complex entity. As they evolve, they develop more complex functionality. With the fruit fly, researchers feel they are truly seeing leptin in its most basic or primitive form.

Researchers explain that for any organism to react normal with differing conditions, the organs must achieve homeostasis, a steady state of existence. Then, to coordinate food intake as well as nutrient stores with the energy requirements is an important mechanism of homeostasis called energy homeostasis. The leptin keeps the energy homeostasis at an even keep by connecting the fruit fly’s fat stores with how many calories it takes in. The bottom line is that this hormone signals the brain when the eater has had enough to eat, something severely lacking in many obese individuals.

It’s old news for researchers that the molecules that come out of the fruit fly’s fatty tissues communicate a nutritional status report through the fly’s whole body. But, what they had not known previously was the nature of the molecules or the signals they were sending out. Rajan feels that these molecules will resemble the leptin hormones that the humans posses, because flies and mammals have a similar nutrient sensory path.

Scientists predicted that three of the molecules flies possessed were probably similar in structure to leptin and when Rajan eliminated one of these proteins, Upd2, the fruit flies began to show signs of starving behavior, even though they were consuming their normal calorie levels. Expert Rajan was not surprised, stating that it made sense because leptin is a nutrient sensor and if you take out the protein that senses the nutrients, a body will naturally think there are no nutrients and go into a starvation mode. Upon further testing, when flies were actually starved, the levels of Upd2 dropped, then when they were given appropriate amounts of food, the levels went back up. This showed that like leptin, Upd2 is a sensor of nutrients.

From here, scientists discovered Upd2 utilizes a neuro-circuit that is similar to the trafficking of nutritional data between the brain and fat tissues. As Upd2 gets to the brain, insulin release is regulated, letting the fly know to sore nutrients and spend energy growing. Lastly, Rajan and the other scientists put together a fly that had no Upd2 at all and then put the human version of leptin in it instead. The fruit fly accepted the mammal molecule, and all nutrient sensing duties continued. What can be learned by these trials is that there is now a genetic standard to study in flies that directly addresses the difficult questions having to do with the biology of leptin. This is just what the scientists who study obesity need to continue their search for a cure to the problem that affects millions.

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