The hormone ‘ghrelin’ may influence body weight by signalling the brain to increase metabolic rate. Matthias Tschöp and colleagues of Eli Lilly and Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, show in this week’s Nature (Vol. 407, No. 6806, 19 OCTOBER 2000) that injecting a synthetic version of the hormone under the skin of mice and rats made them gain weight and body fat by lowering the amount of fat that they burned. Releasing low doses of ghrelin directly into the brains of the animals caused a dose-dependent increase in their food intake and body weight.
Fasting animals have increased levels of ghrelin in their blood, say Tschöp’s group, and those allowed to feast have less of the hormone circulating than normal. This suggests a role for ghrelin "in shifting towards a more energy-efficient metabolism during starvation," say the team.
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