John Hopkins University researchers believe they’ve found a nerve cell that may serve as a “switch” that tells the brain it’s time to put down the fork and walk away from that second helping of chocolate cake.

The nerve cell, discovered in mice, could be a useful tool in the fight against obesity… if you don’t mind becoming a genetically modified human.

The scientists found that when the cells “fired,” sending other signals to the brain, the mice ate 25% less in the course of a day. Switching off those cells caused the mice to eat more, and double their weight in 3 weeks.

The cells were located in a small region of the brain called the para-ventricular nucleus, which was already known to send signals and receive signals related to appetite and food intake. [1]

Richard Huganir, Ph.D., director of the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and graduate student Olof Lagerlöf, M.D., honed in on an enzyme known as OGT, a biological catalyst that is involved in several bodily functions, including sugar chemistry and the body’s use of insulin.

When the researchers deleted the gene from the primary nerve cells located in the hippocampus and cortex of the adult mice, that’s when researchers noticed the mice’s rapid weight gain. [2]

The missing gene caused the rodents to binge on their food more, and consume more calories in the process. When the team removed the mice’s food, they stopped gaining weight, which suggested the mice were incapable of telling when they were full, which made them overeat. And the weight they gained was pure fat, not muscle.

Said Huganir:

“When the type of brain cell we discovered fires and sends off signals, our laboratory mice stop eating soon after. The signals seem to tell the mice they’ve had enough.” [3]

Lagerlof explained:

“These mice don’t understand that they’ve had enough food, so they keep eating. We believe we have found a new receiver of information that directly affects brain activity and feeding behavior, and if our findings bear out in other animals, including people, they may advance the search for drugs or other means of controlling appetites.”

The findings are published in the journal Science.

There are a lot of reasons why people overeat. There is big money in trying to find the magic cure, but I’m not sure deleting or shutting off a gene is a safe bet. And any drug created based on the findings would surely have unpleasant side effects.

So eat slowly, and take the time to really taste and enjoy your food. Avoid high fructose corn syrup and the hunger- and thirst-inducing seasoning MSG. Eat foods that keep you feeling full throughout the day instead of grabbing the closest baggy of junk food to satisfy your immediate hunger.

This article originally appeared at Natural Society.


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