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Scientists Find Brain's Hunger Switch

Updated: May 14, 2021

Feeling famished all the time regardless of how much you eat is a struggle experienced by many people. This problem can be dealt with by making dietary or lifestyle changes, but in some cases, it could be a sign of certain medical conditions. When not treated, this constant hunger can lead to severe obesity.

A new study, published in Science last week, has the potential to pave the way for drugs that can "turn off the hunger switch" in the brain. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Queen Mary University of London, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have shed a light on how the master switch for hunger in the brain, dubbed the melanocortin receptor 4 (MC4 receptor), works and controls the urge to eat.

Genetically inherited mutations in this receptor are believed to be a relatively common cause of severe childhood obesity. While companies are racing to make drugs that target MC4, the limited knowledge on the receptor caused the drugs to have various side effects.

"Now that we know the precise molecular details of the switch, we can use this to target it very precisely and design drugs that can avoid some of the side effects that have been encountered with this first drug," said Dr. Moran Shalev-Benami of Weizmann Institute to The Times of Israel.

While the study is directed towards anti-obesity medications and helping people with genetic conditions that directly affect MC4, it could also have implications for those trying to diet. That really would be the holy grail.


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