Researchers in Korea have just taken a major step in the journey towards understanding the patterns of our eating behavior. Scientists at the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology have recently discovered the dynamics of the enzyme in our brains that controls our appetite.
Previous research has uncovered that the hypothalamus region in our brain detects levels of glucose and hormones in our blood in order to manage our food intake. To extend these findings, the recent research done in Korea has shown that having low amounts of glucose in the bloodstream activates an enzyme, called adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK). This enzyme alters the properties of neuropeptides, small protein molecules used by neurons to communicate with each other, using autophagy.
When decreased amounts of glucose in the bloodstream are detected, AMPK is stimulated, which diminished the levels of two neurohormones in the brain, neuropeptide Y (NPY) and pro-opiomelanocortin-alpha (POMC). The levels of NPY and POMC are reduced by the process of autophagy, the natural self-destruction mechanism in the body. Decreased amounts of NPY and POMC have been strongly linked to an increase in food intake and obesity.
In orders to trace the complex pathways between the brain and the body to come to these conclusions, researchers conducted experiments using cell lines in vitro and mice. Using the cell lines, researchers were able to record the presence of autophagy under different levels of glucose and activated certain pathways to find the links between the brain and the body. In the mice, researchers injected a virus that eliminated AMPK in the mice’s brains. As a result, the mice ate significantly less than others not injected with the virus.
Combining the results from the cell and mice experiments confirmed that AMPK altered the levels of NPY and POMC, therefore affecting one’s appetite. While these findings are preliminary, they are a significant step in the direction towards completely understanding our eating behavior and may one day lead to solving the obesity epidemic we face today.