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Fat Tissue May Control the Energy Levels in Your Brain

First Posted: Apr 25, 2015 04:19 PM EDT

An enzyme secreted by your body's fat tissues may actually control energy levels in your brain. Scientists have found that body's fat tissue has a role in controlling the brain's response to food scarcity. These findings suggest that there is an optimal amount of body fat for maximizing health and longevity.

"We showed that fat tissue controls brain function in a really interesting way," said Shin-ichiro Imai, senior author of the new study, in a news release. "The results suggest that there is an optimal amount of fat tissue that maximizes the function of the control center of aging and longevity in the brain. We still don't know what that amount is or how it might vary by individual. But at least in mice, we know that if they don't have enough of a key enzyme produced by fat, an important part of the brain can't maintain its energy levels."

Scientists have long known that as we age, people who are slightly overweight tend to have fewer problems. However, they've long wondered why this is.

In this case, the researchers focused on an enzyme called NAMPT, which has been shown in the past to be important in producing a vital cellular fuel called NAD. Traditionally, NAMPT is thought to be important for making this fuel inside cells. However, the researchers noticed that in this case, the fat tissue churned out a lot of NAMPT that ended up circulating in the blood stream.

In experiments with mice the researchers found that energy levels in the fat tissue plummeted when fat tissue lacked the enzyme. Other tissues such as the liver and muscles were unaffected. However, the hypothalamus in the brain was affected.

So what does this mean? The findings suggest that fat tissue communicates specifically with the hypothalamus, influencing the way the brain controls the body's physiologic set points.

"This phenomenon makes sense in the wild," said Imai. "If you can't get food and you just sit around and wait, you won't survive. So the brain, working on conjunction with the fat tissue, has a way to kick in and let you move to survive, even when food is scarce."

The findings are published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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