Oxytocin May Play a Central Role in Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

Oxytocin has great potential to become a next-generation peptidyl drug target for obesity and diabetes.

The race to identify therapeutic interventions that effectively address obesity and its associated metabolic syndrome disorders has researchers delving into the body’s neural compartments. That approach is based on the clinical evidence that obesity and metabolic syndrome development are significantly linked to central nervous system (CNS) dysregulation — which is why oxytocin is currently in the spotlight.

Certain hypothalamic neural circuits and neuropeptides are essential energy and weight modulators. As a posterior pituitary gland neuropeptide, Oxytocin plays a well-documented primary role in sexual behavior and reproduction, in addition to its more recently identified roles in neuropsychiatric functions such as social recognition, pair bonding, anxiety, maternal behaviors, and in-group trust and empathy. But now, the neuropeptide’s function in metabolic regulation may represent a therapeutic approach to obesity and the condition’s related metabolic diseases.

In a recent issue of Diabetes, two researchers from New York’s Diabetes Research Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine assembled a review of oxytocin’s potential role in obesity.

When oxytocin is released into the brain, it targets regulatory regions that control feeding and energy balance. When it’s released into the circulation and peripheral tissues — as it would be when it’s administered as a biologic therapy — it has the potential to send positive feedback that increases central oxytocin release, which increases its central metabolic action.

Oxytocin appears to have multiple mechanisms directed at energy regulation and metabolic homeostasis. Animal studies have demonstrated its ability to increase energy expenditure, satiety signals, and adiposity while concurrently decreasing food intake. For those reasons, oxytocin has great potential to become a next-generation peptidyl drug target for obesity and diabetes. One small study in 11 patients has already demonstrated excellent results in reducing body weight, waist circumference, and hip circumference after the use of nasal oxtyocin.

Numerous pharmacologic anti-obesity approaches have delivered marginal results with significant side effects. Bariatric surgery lowers body weight and reduces metabolic complications in the morbidly obese, but long-term outcomes remain unknown. Thus, the development of neuropeptides that are known to regulate body is the next frontier in the search for anti-obesity therapeutics.

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