MAR 06, 2015 03:38 PM PST

Neurons Controlling Appetite Made from Skin Cells

Researchers have for the first time successfully converted adult human skin cells into neurons of the type that regulate appetite, providing a patient-specific model for studying the neurophysiology of weight control and testing new therapies for obesity. The study, led by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and at the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF), was published last month in the online issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

In a separate study, which appeared in the Feb. 10 issue of the journal Development, Kevin Eggan, PhD; Florian Merkle; and Alexander Schier of Harvard University have also succeeded in creating hypothalamic neurons from human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. These neurons help to regulate behavioral and basic physiological functions in the human body, including, in addition to appetite, hypertension, sleep, mood, and some social disorders. The investigators at Columbia and Harvard shared ideas during the course of the research, and these studies are co-validating.



"Mice are a good model for studying obesity in humans, but it would better to have human cells for testing. Unfortunately, the cells that regulate appetite are located in an inaccessible part of the brain, the hypothalamus. So, until now, we've had to make do with a mouse model or with human cells harvested at autopsy. This has greatly limited our ability to study fundamental aspects of human obesity," said senior author Rudolph L. Leibel, MD, the Christopher J. Murphy Memorial Professor of Diabetes Research, professor of pediatrics and medicine, and co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at CUMC.

To make the neurons, human skin cells were first genetically reprogrammed to become iPS cells. Like natural stem cells, iPS cells are capable of developing into any kind of adult cell when given a specific set of molecular signals in a specific order. The iPS cell technology has been used to create a variety of adult human cell types, including insulin-producing beta cells and forebrain and motor neurons. "But until now, no one has been able to figure out how to convert human iPS cells into hypothalamic neurons," said co-author Dieter Egli, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics (in developmental cell biology), a member of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, and a senior research fellow at NYSCF.

"This is a wonderful example of several institutions coming together to collaborate and advance research in pursuit of new therapeutic interventions. The ability to make this type of neuron brings us one step closer to the development of new treatments for obesity," said Susan L. Solomon, CEO of NYSCF.

The CUMC/NYSCF team determined which signals are needed to transform iPS cells into arcuate hypothalamic neurons, a neuron subtype that regulates appetite. The transformation process took about 30 days. The neurons were found to display key functional properties of mouse arcuate hypothalamic neurons, including the ability to accurately process and secrete specific neuropeptides and to respond to metabolic signals such as insulin and leptin.

"We don't think that these neurons are identical to natural hypothalamic neurons, but they are close and will still be useful for studying the neurophysiology of weight control, as well as molecular abnormalities that lead to obesity," said Dr. Leibel. "In addition, the cells will allow us to evaluate potential obesity drugs in a way never before possible."

"This shows," said Dr. Eggan, "how improved understanding of stem cell biology is making an impact on our ability to study, understand, and eventually treat disorders of the nervous system. Because there are so few hypothalamic neurons of a given type, they have been notoriously difficult to study. The successful work by both groups shows that this problem has been cracked."

Souce: Columbia University Medical Center
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
You May Also Like
SEP 13, 2018
Neuroscience
SEP 13, 2018
Can Nerve Stimulation Treat Depression?
Depression is a significant mental health disorder that thousands of people suffer from on a daily basis. According to the CDC, the prevalence of depressio...
OCT 10, 2018
Neuroscience
OCT 10, 2018
Can Meditation Change the Brain?
When someone says they are going to meditate, what comes to mind? Someone clad in a loose robe, sitting cross-legged in a sweat tent, repeating a mantra? W...
OCT 21, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
OCT 21, 2018
The Nervous System Directly Controls Stem Cell Growth
Our body relies on adult stem cells throughout our lives; we need them to continuously generate new cells as they wear out, like on the skin and in our blood....
OCT 29, 2018
Neuroscience
OCT 29, 2018
Did we get blindsided about the role of cerebellum?
Cerebellum play a mjor role in higher -order brain functions beyond the motor specific functioning...
NOV 01, 2018
Cannabis Sciences
NOV 01, 2018
Meet Anandamide - The "Bliss" Molecule
Many of us are aware of the relatively new discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is the system which is hijacked by the famous phytocannabinoid (i.e. from cannabis) compounds......
NOV 05, 2018
Neuroscience
NOV 05, 2018
Stress: Men Vs. Women
Undersatnding the gender specific differences in response to stress...
Loading Comments...