Regulating brain enzyme could help tackle obesity

A protein responsible for the brain’s sweet tooth could point the way to new drugs that prevent obesity.

Scientists have discovered an enzyme that seems to drive sugar cravings in the hypothalamus, a brain region that regulates various functions, including food intake. The enzyme, glucokinase, was already known to be present in the liver and pancreas.

In tests on rats, boosting the protein’s activity in the brain caused the animals to consume more glucose in preference over their normal food. Reducing glucokinase activity led to the rats eating less glucose.

Glucose sugar is a component of carbohydrates and the main energy source for brain cells.

The evidence suggests that glucokinase in the brain plays a key role in driving our desire for sugary food.

Lead scientist Dr James Gardiner, from Imperial College London, said: “It suggests that when you’re thinking about diet, you have to think about different nutrients, not just count calories.”

A drug targeting glucokinase or its biological pathway could potentially prevent obesity, the scientists believe.

The discovery also has implications for the way people diet.

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