Body fat can send signals to brain, affecting stress response

Posted on July 25, 2015

The brain's effect on other parts of the body has been well established. Now, a group that includes two University of Florida Health researchers has found that it's a two-way street: Body fat can send a signal that affects the way the brain deals with stress and metabolism.

While the exact nature of those signals remains a mystery, researchers say simply knowing such a pathway exists and learning more about it could help break a vicious cycle: Stress causes a desire to eat more, which can lead to obesity. And too much extra fat can impair the body’s ability to send a signal to the brain to shut off the stress response.

The findings are important and unique because they show that it’s not simply the brain that drives the way the body responds to stress, said James Herman, Ph.D., a co-author of the paper and a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati,.

"It moved our understanding of stress control to include other parts of the body. Before this, everyone thought that the regulation of stress was mainly due to the brain. It's not just in the brain. This study suggests that stress regulation occurs on a much larger scale, including body systems controlling metabolism, such as fat," Herman said.

The researchers found that steroid hormones known as glucocorticoids activate their receptors within fat tissue in a way that affects a main component of the metabolic stress response. Using mouse models, they found a unique connection between glucocorticoid signaling in fat tissue and the brain’s regulation of energy balance and stress response. Because glucocorticoid signaling is crucial to regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, fat tissue can directly affect central nervous system functions that link obesity, metabolic disease and stress-related problems, researchers concluded.

Understanding fat-to-brain signaling is a first step toward someday being able to influence the broad, complex relationship between stress, obesity and metabolism. Herman credited de Kloet for pressing the search for a fat-to-brain signaling network.


Category(s):Eating Disorders, Stress Management

Source material from University of Florida


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