Cheeseburgers pack on the pounds, but in mice a high-fat diet also packs on new nerve cells in the brain. More brain cells may seem like a good thing, but these newly sprouted cells appear to trigger weight gain in the animals, a new study finds.
The results offer insight into how the brain controls weight. If the same thing happens in humans, these nerve cells may be a target for anti-obesity treatments.
“This kind of work will definitely inform how we think about the underlying factors that relate to obesity,” says endocrinologist Jeffrey Flier of Harvard Medical School in Boston. There’s increasing interest, he says, in how long-term changes in brain circuitry — like new nerve cell production — affect eating and hunger. “That is going to be a very interesting frontier.”
A special brain cell called a tanycyte (green) was caught in the process of giving birth to a new neuron (marked with a white arrow) in a brain region called the median eminence. A high-fat diet spurs tanycytes to make new nerve cells in the brain, a new study finds. Credit: Daniel Lee/Blackshaw Lab