Protein Has Potential to Fight Obesity and Diabetes

Researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center may have discovered a protein that could help in the battle against excessive weight gain.

As obesity becomes a greater problem, researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center claim to have discovered a protein that could help in the battle against excessive weight gain.

In their study, the researchers said the protein, which controls when genes are turned on and off, could provide guidance on therapies to help not only obesity, but also diabetes. This is due, they noted, to the transcription factor, a spliced X-box binding protein 1 (Xbp1s) that has a direct effect on the body’s sensitivity to insulin and leptin signaling. Those 2 components are key to a person’s “regulation of food intake and sugar and sugar disposal, and obesity and diabetes are conditions under which the body develops resistance to their actions.”

Co-first author Kevin Williams, MD, an assistant professor of internal medicine, said in a statement that this could be a key discovery for future treatments.

“This study identifies critical molecular mechanisms that link the brain and peripheral endocrine tissues and that ultimately contribute to the regulation of body weight and glucose metabolism,” he said.

The gene works in the pro-opiomelanocortin neurons in the hypothalamic region and patients with elevated Xbp1s in that region had a “fed” signal improved body weight, lowered blood glucose levels, and provided better insulin sensitivity in the liver.

While there is currently no Xbp1s drug available for testing Williams said the development of such a drug will help further the research the team started in this study. Currently, they’ve only studied one transcription factor out of many.

“Manipulating this one gene in the brain affected metabolism in the liver,” Joel Elmquist, MD, the director of the Division of Hypothalamic Research and professor of internal medicine, pharmacology and psychiatry, said in a statement. “This result shows that the brain is controlling glucose production by the liver.”

Elmquist also serves as the Carl H. Westcott Distinguished Chair in Medical Research and the Maclin Family Distinguished Professorship in Medical Science, and served as a co-senior author of the story with Philipp Scherer, MD, director of the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research and a professor of internal medicine and cell biology and holder of the Gifford O. Touchstone Jr. and Randolph G. Touchstone Distinguished Chair in Diabetes Research.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.