NARSAD Grant-Funded Research Finds Birth of New Neurons May Cause Weight Gain

Seth Blackshaw, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University
Seth Blackshaw, Ph.D.

NARSAD-funded researchers discovered that new nerve cells formed in the hypothalamus section of the brain could lead to weight gain. The study by Johns Hopkins' scientists was published in the May issue of Nature Neuroscience. They found that in animals, neurogenesis, the process by which new nerve cells are generated, spurred by a high-fat diet encourages more eating and fat storage.

The lead author of the study is NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee Seth Blackshaw, Ph.D., associate professor in the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

According to Dr. Blackshaw, researchers previously thought that neurogenesis only occurred in the hippocampus section of the brain, which is involved in memory, and the olfactory bulb, which is involved in smell. He said that recent research suggests that the hypothalamus is associated with many bodily functions, including sleep, body temperature, hunger and thirst, which also produce new neurons. However, the precise source of this neurogenesis and the function of these newborn neurons remained a mystery.

To help solve this mystery, Blackshaw and his colleagues used mice as a model to investigate whether any particular part of the hypothalamus had a high level of cell growth to indicate neurogenesis was occurring. “If the team’s work is confirmed in future studies,” Blackshaw says, “researchers might eventually use these findings as a basis to treat obesity by inhibiting hypothalamic neurogenesis.”

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