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‘Sensor’ protein could ward off obesity finds study

Posted:  Friday, October 30, 2015

What if there was a biological switch that gets activated and protects one from obesity especially when a high calorie diet is consumed? Researchers have found something on similar lines, a protective ‘sensor’ protein to fight against obesity. A protein called NLRP1 gets switched on when high dietary energy (food) intake causes a cell to become 'unstable'. The activated protein in turn sets off a chain reaction that increases the cell’s energy or fat burning capacity to prevent excess fat from accumulating.

These results were reported in the journal Cell Metabolism. The study showed that without NLRP1, a cell’s fat stores increase especially when a high calorie diet is consumed. This protein is commonly known for its role in the immune system. Thus, the body’s immune system is activated not only during infection but also in response to loss of metabolic equilibrium due to a high energy diet.

The researchers found that NLRP1 controls the immune system’s signalling molecule, namely interleukin-18 (IL-18) to function against obesity. They are now looking at developing a small molecule that activates the pathway to produce IL-18 as their long term goal. This could help obese subjects to burn the excess fat stores.

They however caution that the treatment based on this mechanism needs to be tightly controlled as it could have potential side effects. In the course of their study, they found that activation of NLRP1 could be exacerbated by certain diets and hence there needs to be a fine balance between fat burning capabilities and general harm.

"This shows us just how active the pathway is, which is important if you are looking at it in a therapeutic sense. It suggests that treatment would be most safe if given in small doses over a long period of time, which is less likely to have potentially negative consequences," they conclude.

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