By determining the structure of a key receptor in obesity, scientists have unlocked an opportunity for the development of new drugs.
A USC-led international team of scientists has found the precise shape of a key player in human metabolism, which could lead the way to better treatments for obesity and other metabolic diseases. For the study, the scientists focused on a protein in the brain, the melanocortin 4 receptor (or MC4R). This receptor helps with regulating the body's energy balance by controlling how much energy is stored as fat. Mutations in the gene that encodes the MC4R protein are linked to severe childhood obesity and other forms. "A lot of people think obesity is a lifestyle choice," said Raymond Stevens, a USC (University of Southern California) Provost Professor and director of the Bridge Institute at the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience. "That's just not true in all cases. Some people have mutations of this gene, and if they have mutations of this gene, many cannot control their eating. It's this receptor causing this issue in the brain."