Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have discovered a specific gene that plays an important role in keeping a steady balance between our food intake and energy expenditure.
The study may help scientists better understand the keys to fighting obesity and related disorders such as diabetes.
The study focused on the melanocortin-3 receptor (MC3R), which normally responds to signals of nutrient intake.
"What we discovered was quite a surprise," said Scripps Research Associate Professor Andrew Butler, who led the study.
"We thought that the actions of the receptor expressed in the brain would be critical for metabolic homeostasis. However, what we found is that actions of the receptor expressed outside the brain appear to be equally important," Butler stated.
The existence of drug targets in areas outside of the central nervous system (the body's "periphery") might help in the effort to develop drugs that influence metabolism without major side effects, he noted.
The findings were made possible by the team's development of a new transgenic animal model, where expression of the MC3R gene can be selectively "switched on" in different cell types.
The discovery has been published in the November 25, 2011 print edition of The Journal of Biological Chemistry.