A new study led by a Scripps Research (formerly The Scripps Research Institute) team has revealed a new link between fat and the brain.
According to the study, the brain does not simply respond to hormonal signals in the blood to regulate fat burning, but can also send messages directly to fat tissue and influence metabolic processes.
Li Ye, Ph.D., a co-senior author and the Abide-Vividion Chair in Chemistry and Chemical Biology & associate professor of neuro science at Scripps Research, claims that the finding of these neurons “suggests for the first time that your brain is actively surveying your fat, rather than just passively receiving messages about it.”
“The implications of this discovery are enormous,” he added.
Co-senior author and professor Ardem Patapoutian, Ph.D., who is also a Nobel laureate and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher, says that this is yet another illustration of how crucial sensory neurons are to both health & disease in the human body.
Prior to the recent study, the scientific community believed that the sympathetic nervous system connected adipose tissues. For this study’s results, the research team had to develop entirely new imaging modalities.
Two novel methods were used
Ye and his colleagues made the decision to explain the study using two novel approaches.
In order to make mouse tissues transparent and better follow the paths of neurons as they twisted into adipose tissue, the team first used an imaging technique called HYBRiD.
Researchers found that almost half of these neurons are not connected to the sympathetic nervous system, but are connected to dorsal root ganglia, where all sensory neurons in the brain originate.
The researchers then used a second technique called ROOT, which stands for “retrograde vector optimised for organ tracing,” to further investigate the function of these neurons in adipose tissue.
ROOT enabled them to use a targeted virus to eliminate small subsets of sensory neurons in adipose tissue and then observe what happened.
From the spine to the fat tissue
The study’s main finding was the identification of sensory neurons that branch-out from the spine into fat tissue. The dorsal root ganglia are directly connected to these sensory neurons.
The discovery of these neurons raises the possibility for the first time that your brain actively examines your fat rather than merely receiving information about it passively, according to co-senior author Li Ye. The results of this study have significant implications.
The study was published in Nature.