Newly Identified Protein May Aid Treatment of Obesity, Diabetes

According to a York University study, a recently-identified protein may help keep appetite and blood sugar down.

According to a York University study, a recently-identified protein may help keep appetite and blood sugar down.

The study was led by Suraj Unniappan, associate professor in York’s Department of Biology, Faculty of Science & Engineering.

Unniappan has been exploring the metabolic effects of a prevalent protein in the brain called nesfatin-1. In previous studies, Unniappan discovered that rats given nesfatin-1 consumed less food, utilized more stored fat, and were more active in general.

Further, nesfatin-1 sped up insulin secretion in the rats.

“[The rats] actually ate more frequently but in lesser amounts,” reported Unniappan. “In addition, they were more active and we found that their fatty acid oxidization was increased. In other words, the energy reserve being preferably used during nesfatin-1 treatment was fat. This suggests more fat loss, which could eventually result in body weight loss.”

Nesfatin-1 was discovered by a research team in Japan in 2006, and has since been found to curb appetite and the manufacturing of body fat when injected into the brains of rodents.

According to Unniappan’s findings, the protein stimulates also insulin secretion from the pancreas, which contains collections of cells called the islets of Langerhans. These islets generate many vital hormones, including insulin.

Unniappan’s team has focused on mice in prior studies and has discovered results similar to this most recent study. In these instances, nesfatin-1 not only stimulated insulin secretion—which lowered glucose levels in the bodies of the rodents—but the protein also was present in decreased levels in the pancreatic islets of mice with type 1 diabetes, whereas it was increased in mice with type 2 diabetes.

Unniappan’s research focuses generally on identifying and assessing the biological effects of gut and brain-derived appetite-regulatory, as well as metabolic hormones in fish and mammals.

“A major question we’re trying to address is how these peptides act and interact with other peptides in the endocrine network — which is so complex – in order to maintain steady blood glucose levels and body weight,” Unniappan continued.

A more thorough comprehension of this gut-brain axis may aid future pharmacological interventions for diabetes and obesity.

“New hormone-based treatments that would suppress body weight and blood sugar would be very desirable. However, we are far from developing nesfatin-1 as a candidate molecule. Our current research focuses on further exploring the therapeutic potential of nesfatin-1 in metabolic diseases with debilitating complications,” Unniappan concluded.

This researcher has been published in two recent articles from Unniappan’s laboratory: one published today in Endocrinology and another in March 2011 in Journal of Endocrinology.