Immune System Protein May Be Key In New Approaches to Obesity Treatment
Researchers from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg have discovered that a molecule within the immune system could affect hunger and satiety, and ultimately affect the body’s ability to burn fat. This finding “could in the long run lead to people fighting obesity by changing what they eat in line with how it affects the brain," says Erik Schéle, a doctoral student.
Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a cytokine involved in the inflammatory process within the immune system. The molecule is known to cross the blood-brain barrier and work in the brain, especially in the hypothalamus, the portion that controls hunger and thirst. Normally, our levels of IL-6 are low, but increase dramatically during an infection, which often reduces our feeling of hunger.
IL-6 is also involved in regulating body temperature and energy mobilization. Higher amounts of the chemical messenger may help induce weight loss by increasing metabolism – or our body’s ability to burn fat.
"Interleukin-6 increases levels of substances in the brain that trigger weight loss, which could explain why high levels of this molecule lead to weight loss," says Schéle, who presented his results in a thesis. He notes that previous findings in animals have found that rats injected with IL-6 have a higher metabolism and those who lack the molecule tend to get fat.
Although it is not yet fully understood how interleukin-6 in the brain affects body weight, there may be a dietary link. Non-related studies have looked at how nutrients such as calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and carbohydrate affect plasma circulation of IL-6, for example.
"This could in the long run lead to people fighting obesity by changing what they eat in line with how it affects the brain," says Schéle.