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Scientists find protein culprit for obesity

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers have discovered a protein that leads to obesity. Previous studies reveal that one protein - p62 - produced obesity in mice when scientists studied how obesity occurs in the absence of p62. Now scientists have discovered a protein that pairs with p62 and is the real culprit that promotes fat cell growth and leads to obesity.

The new findings show that the ERK protein works in conjunction with p62 to make fat cells in the body that in turn leads to obesity, insulin resistance, and eventually diabetes and other obesity related problems.

In earlier research, Jorge Moscat, PhD, chair of UC’s cancer and cell biology department at the University of Cincinnati found that mice who lack p62 became fat and used less energy, becoming insulin resistant in adulthood, compared to mice who ate the same diet and expended the same amount of energy - an important note for individuals who despite exercise and diet cannot lose weight.

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The researchers failed to find a way to target p62 deficiency and mutation that if eliminated could also lead to the development of cancer. The protein ERK that interacts with p62 then became the focus for the researchers - a protein that has not been fully understood, but thought to play a role in obesity.

“Thoughts about ERK’s role in obesity have been controversial,” says Moscat. “One theory suggested that it was to restrain production of fat cells. Our study shows a much more devious role for ERK.” When the researchers studied mice lacking p62 and ERK, the mice no longer became obese. The findings mean that the ERK protein is the real culprit for obesity. Without the action of p62, ERK protein activity runs rampant to produce fat cells and obesity.

The protein found to lead to obesity is targetable. The scientists say they can block the protein without affecting p62 that is not an accessible target for obesity prevention and treatment, and if lacking could lead to cancer. The new study shows that the ERK protein produces fat cells leading to obesity and insulin resistance and teams up with p62 to allow the protein to run rampant. Identifying the protein that is the real culprit for obesity shold lead to new and exciting treatment options for weight loss and obesity prevention.

UC News