Aetiology of Obesity: The Role of Genes and Hormones (The Fat Chance Series Book 3)

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A perfect storm

Predominantly, the "energy expenditure hormone" leptin is made by adipose cells , thus it is labeled fat cell-specific. In the context of its effects , it is important to recognize that the short describing words direct , central , and primary are not used interchangeably. In regard to the hormone leptin, central vs peripheral refers to the hypothalamic portion of the brain vs non-hypothalamic location of action of leptin; direct vs indirect refers to whether there is no intermediary, or there is an intermediary in the mode of action of leptin; and primary vs secondary is an arbitrary description of a particular function of leptin.

In vertebrates, the nervous system consists of two main parts, the central nervous system CNS and the peripheral nervous system PNS.


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The primary effect of leptins is in the hypothalamus , a part of the central nervous system. Leptin receptors are expressed not only in the hypothalamus but also in other brain regions, particularly in the hippocampus. Thus some leptin receptors in the brain are classified as central hypothalamic and some as peripheral non-hypothalamic. Generally, leptin is thought to enter the brain at the choroid plexus , where the intense expression of a form of leptin receptor molecule could act as a transport mechanism.

Increased levels of melatonin causes a downregulation of leptin, [24] however, melatonin also appears to increase leptin levels in the presence of insulin , therefore causing a decrease in appetite during sleeping. Mice with type 1 diabetes treated with leptin or leptin plus insulin, compared to insulin alone had better metabolic profiles: blood sugar did not fluctuate so much; cholesterol levels decreased; less body fat formed. Leptin acts on receptors in the lateral hypothalamus to inhibit hunger and the medial hypothalamus to stimulate satiety.

Thus, a lesion in the lateral hypothalamus causes anorexia due to a lack of hunger signals and a lesion in the medial hypothalamus causes excessive hunger due to a lack of satiety signals. The absence of leptin or its receptor leads to uncontrolled hunger and resulting obesity. Fasting or following a very-low-calorie diet lowers leptin levels.

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Leptin binds to neuropeptide Y NPY neurons in the arcuate nucleus in such a way as to decrease the activity of these neurons. Leptin signals to the hypothalamus which produces a feeling of satiety. Moreover, leptin signals may make it easier for people to resist the temptation of foods high in calories.


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The NPY neurons are a key element in the regulation of hunger; small doses of NPY injected into the brains of experimental animals stimulates feeding, while selective destruction of the NPY neurons in mice causes them to become anorexic. Once leptin has bound to the Ob-Rb receptor, it activates the stat3, which is phosphorylated and travels to the nucleus to effect changes in gene expression, one of the main effects being the down-regulation of the expression of endocannabinoids , responsible for increasing hunger. It modulates the immune response to atherosclerosis, of which obesity is a predisposing factor.

Exogenous leptin can promote angiogenesis by increasing vascular endothelial growth factor levels. Hyperleptinemia produced by infusion or adenoviral gene transfer decreases blood pressure in rats. Leptin microinjections into the nucleus of the solitary tract NTS have been shown to elicit sympathoexcitatory responses, and potentiate the cardiovascular responses to activation of the chemoreflex. In fetal lung, leptin is induced in the alveolar interstitial fibroblasts "lipofibroblasts" by the action of PTHrP secreted by formative alveolar epithelium endoderm under moderate stretch.

The leptin from the mesenchyme, in turn, acts back on the epithelium at the leptin receptor carried in the alveolar type II pneumocytes and induces surfactant expression, which is one of the main functions of these type II pneumocytes. In mice, and to a lesser extent in humans, leptin is required for male and female fertility. Ovulatory cycles in females are linked to energy balance positive or negative depending on whether a female is losing or gaining weight and energy flux how much energy is consumed and expended much more than energy status fat levels.

When energy balance is highly negative meaning the woman is starving or energy flux is very high meaning the woman is exercising at extreme levels, but still consuming enough calories , the ovarian cycle stops and females stop menstruating. Only if a female has an extremely low body fat percentage does energy status affect menstruation. Leptin levels outside an ideal range may have a negative effect on egg quality and outcome during in vitro fertilization. The placenta produces leptin. Leptin is also expressed in fetal membranes and the uterine tissue.

Uterine contractions are inhibited by leptin. Immunoreactive leptin has been found in human breast milk; and leptin from mother's milk has been found in the blood of suckling infant animals. Leptin along with kisspeptin controls the onset of puberty. Leptin's role in regulating bone mass was identified in Leptin decreases cancellous bone , but increases cortical bone. This "cortical-cancellous dichotomy" may represent a mechanism for enlarging bone size, and thus bone resistance, to cope with increased body weight. Bone metabolism can be regulated by central sympathetic outflow, since sympathetic pathways innervate bone tissue.

Factors that acutely affect leptin levels are also factors that influence other markers of inflammation, e. While it is well-established that leptin is involved in the regulation of the inflammatory response, [66] [67] [68] it has been further theorized that leptin's role as an inflammatory marker is to respond specifically to adipose-derived inflammatory cytokines. In terms of both structure and function, leptin resembles IL-6 and is a member of the cytokine superfamily. Similar to what is observed in chronic inflammation, chronically elevated leptin levels are associated with obesity, overeating, and inflammation-related diseases, including hypertension , metabolic syndrome , and cardiovascular disease.

While leptin is associated with body fat mass, however, the size of individual fat cells, and the act of overeating, it is interesting that it is not affected by exercise for comparison, IL-6 is released in response to muscular contractions.

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Thus, it is speculated that leptin responds specifically to adipose-derived inflammation. Taken as such, increases in leptin levels in response to caloric intake function as an acute pro-inflammatory response mechanism to prevent excessive cellular stress induced by overeating. When high caloric intake overtaxes the ability of fat cells to grow larger or increase in number in step with caloric intake, the ensuing stress response leads to inflammation at the cellular level and ectopic fat storage, i.

The insulin increase in response to the caloric load provokes a dose-dependent rise in leptin, an effect potentiated by high cortisol levels. This response may then protect against the harmful process of ectopic fat storage, which perhaps explains the connection between chronically elevated leptin levels and ectopic fat storage in obese individuals.

The Ob Lep gene Ob for obese, Lep for leptin is located on chromosome 7 in humans. A human mutant leptin was first described in , [79] and subsequently six additional mutations were described. All of those affected were from Eastern countries; and all had variants of leptin not detected by the standard immunoreactive technique, so leptin levels were low or undetectable. The most recently described eighth mutation reported in January , in a child with Turkish parents, is unique in that it is detected by the standard immunoreactive technique, where leptin levels are elevated; but the leptin does not turn on the leptin receptor, hence the patient has functional leptin deficiency.

A nonsense mutation in the leptin gene that results in a stop codon and lack of leptin production was first observed in mice. In the mouse gene, arginine is encoded by CGA and only requires one nucleotide change to create the stop codon TGA. The corresponding amino acid in humans is encoded by the sequence CGG and would require two nucleotides to be changed to produce a stop codon, which is much less likely to happen.

A recessive frameshift mutation resulting in a reduction of leptin has been observed in two consanguineous children with juvenile obesity. A study of 13 people with a heterozygous frameshift mutation known as delta-G found that they had lower blood leptin levels than controls. A Human Genome Equivalent HuGE review in looked at studies of the connection between genetic mutations affecting leptin regulation and obesity. They reviewed a common polymorphism in the leptin gene A19G; frequency 0.

What is obesity and what causes it?

They found no association between any of the polymorphisms and obesity. Other rare polymorphisms have been found but their association with obesity are not consistent. A single case of a homozygous transversion mutation of the gene encoding for leptin was reported in January The transversion of c.


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The mutant leptin could neither bind to nor activate the leptin receptor in vitro , nor in leptin-deficient mice in vivo. It was found in a two-year-old boy with extreme obesity with recurrent ear and pulmonary infections. Treatment with metreleptin led to "rapid change in eating behavior, a reduction in daily energy intake, and substantial weight loss.

Leptin is produced primarily in the adipocytes of white adipose tissue. Leptin circulates in blood in free form and bound to proteins. Leptin levels vary exponentially, not linearly, with fat mass. In humans, many instances are seen where leptin dissociates from the strict role of communicating nutritional status between body and brain and no longer correlates with body fat levels:.

All known leptin mutations except one are associated with low to undetectable immunoreactive leptin blood levels. The exception is a mutant leptin reported in January which is not functional, but is detected with standard immunoreactive methods. Although leptin reduces appetite as a circulating signal, obese individuals generally exhibit a higher circulating concentration of leptin than normal weight individuals due to their higher percentage body fat. A number of explanations have been proposed to explain this.

An important contributor to leptin resistance is changes to leptin receptor signalling, particularly in the arcuate nucleus , however, deficiency of, or major changes to, the leptin receptor itself are not thought to be a major cause. Other explanations suggested include changes to the way leptin crosses the blood brain barrier BBB or alterations occurring during development. Studies on leptin cerebrospinal fluid CSF levels provide evidence for the reduction in leptin crossing the BBB and reaching obesity-relevant targets, such as the hypothalamus, in obese people.

Since the amount and quality of leptin receptors in the hypothalamus appears to be normal in the majority of obese humans as judged from leptin-mRNA studies , [] it is likely that the leptin resistance in these individuals is due to a post leptin-receptor deficit, similar to the post-insulin receptor defect seen in type 2 diabetes. When leptin binds with the leptin receptor, it activates a number of pathways.

Mice with a mutation in the leptin receptor gene that prevents the activation of STAT3 are obese and exhibit hyperphagia. The PI3K pathway may also be involved in leptin resistance, as has been demonstrated in mice by artificial blocking of PI3K signalling. The PI3K pathway also is activated by the insulin receptor and is therefore an important area where leptin and insulin act together as part of energy homeostasis.