Almost a third of American adults are obese, up from 14 percent a generation ago, according to government data. Only a few prescription weight-control drugs are on the market, and they produce only modest weight loss, either by suppressing appetite or by preventing the body from digesting and absorbing fats.
In a recent study Harvard researchers found in experiments with mice that when the enzyme AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase, or AMPK ) was inhibited, the animals ate less and lost weight. When AMPK levels were boosted, the mice ate more and gained weight.
Specialists from the University of Washington , who were not involved in the study , said the findings complement recent work in Britain in which the hormone ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone, also was found to affect AMPK levels.
Studies in the past have shown that hormone replacement therapy won't be a simple cure for the nation's obesity woes. Researchers say studies on using leptin to control weight found that obese people had lost sensitivity to the hormone.Thus they believe AMP-kinase might be more effective in weight control than leptin because its works more directly on appetite signaling at the end of the biochemical pathway in the brain.
However researchers say clinical trials on human patients will take years to complete.