Manchester logoPhysicians may often recommend anti-obesity drugs for patients intending to reduce or control weight. But these medications seem to come with various side effects. Experts from the University of Manchester have apparently identified a naturally-occurring appetite suppressant which can be utilized to make a diet drug without side effects.

The scientists anticipate the peptide hemopressin to be able to treat some aspects of alcohol and drug abuse. This is because it supposedly affects the reward part of the brain which may be responsible for hedonistic behavior. Around six years ago, a synthetic antagonist, Rimonabant was apparently introduced as an anti-obesity treatment. It was not only ascertained to act in the brain and reduce feeding but also acted in peripheral tissues to reduce fat deposition.

Dr Garron Dodd, co-author of the research quoted, “It has long been known that the rewarding aspects of feeding behaviour influence our appetite, so that sometimes we eat for pleasure rather than hunger. This is because the cannabinoid system in the brain – a component of the naturally-existing circuitry responsible for reward – is affected by chemicals that are termed ‘agonists’ which bind to its receptors and increase the reward from feeding. One such agonist is cannabis – it hijacks the cannabinoid system and leads to what is colloquially referred to as ‘the munchies’. Similarly, when you fast, the brain causes an increase in naturally-occurring agonists. This results in increased hedonic impact so that when you do eat, food tastes better. Conversely when ‘antagonists’ bind to the receptors of the cannabinoid system, it decreases the reward from feeding. By reducing hedonistic feeding, it is possible to help people lose weight by quenching the desire to eat.”

Body weight in humans seemed to be successfully reduced by Rimonabant. But later it was probably dropped out of the market because of its displeasing side effects like depression and elevation in suicidal thoughts. Dr Dodd mentioned that no side-effects can be caused by employing the naturally-occurring hemopressin. In order to commence the research, the investigators from the Faculty of Life Sciences claim to have examined mice with hemopressin. The experts observed feeding and other behaviors of these mice.

Dr Dodd shared, “We now plan to investigate this further. This is a newly discovered peptide and we do not know yet exactly where it is expressed in the brain. We also need to find out whether it has prolonged actions on body weight. Finally, while our findings are an indication of safety, this cannot be immediately extrapolated to humans. This discovery does however offer new insights into how the brain controls appetite, and opens new avenues by which to manipulate this brain circuitry and aid the development of anti-obesity treatments. The existence of naturally-occurring agents, such as hemopressin, provides attractive targets for drug companies as they may be ‘safer’ in the long term. In addition, as peptides are modified quite easily there is the potential to target their uptake by the body to reduce undesirable side effects.”

Having examined the mice, the researchers were supposedly able to note a reduction in the feeding behavior. Other behaviors may have continued to remain unaffected. A decrease in feeding behavior of the mice with synthetic antagonist was also registered. Other non-specific behaviors like grooming and scratching apparently increased. Therefore the researchers concluded that hemopressin affects feeding alone and may decrease hedonistic behavior without some of the ‘off-target’ effects.

The research is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.