A research team has managed to identify the brain cells linked to our cravings for sweets.
“It’s well-known… to maintain a healthy lifestyle we need to avoid snacking between meals”. While this message is widely disseminated, it is not always easy to combat a craving. Researchers at the University of Iowa help us understand why. According to their work, cravings are linked to specific brain cells, influenced by a hormone.
The role of the hormone FGF21
The scientific team started with an observation: the hormone called FGF21, for fibroblast growth factor 21, is involved in energy regulation, weight control and insulin sensitivity. In their study, the researchers sought to locate the area of action of this hormone in the brain. “This has provided us with interesting insights into how it regulates sugar consumption,” said Matthew Gillum, co-author of the study.
The hormone FGF21 targets so-called glutamatergic neurons, which allows it to act on cravings for sugar and on its consumption. It also has an action on neurons located on the ventromedial hypothalamus: it strengthens their sensitivity to glucose which reduces sugar ingestion. Depending on the level of this hormone, an individual will crave sweet snacks. This discovery was complex because this hormone is difficult to perceive as it is expressed at very low levels, specify the researchers.
The prospect of a drug
The researchers now wish to develop their research to allow the development of a treatment. Drugs acting on FGF21 are already being tested, but this new information on its action could increase their effectiveness. The objective is to act on the consumption of sugar as part of the treatment of obesity and/or diabetes.
What treatments are possible today?
Obesity currently affects nearly 40% of adults in the US, and diabetes affects about 35 million people, 90% of whom suffer from type 2. If for the latter, several drugs can control blood sugar, few Medicines are available to manage obesity.