Researchers identify brain cells that my drive obesity

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Scientists at the University of Copenhagen identified populations of cells in the brain that play a role in the development of obesity, according to a new study published in the journal eLife.

The discovery was made by developing computational tools that combine two different sets of data. The first set was a genome-wide association study data from around 450,000 people. The data compares a person's health and physical attributes, such as their body weight, to their unique genome. Doing so reveals that people with obesity are much more likely to have a range of genetic variants in common, the researchers said.

The second set was a single-cell RNA-sequencing data of more than 700 different types of mouse cell populations. Different cells express different parts of the genome, so the data set contains the unique genetic fingerprint for each cell population, according to the study.

The team integrated the two data sets and found that the genetic variants, which are strongly associated with obesity, are near genes expressed by 26 cell populations acting as different types of neurons.

The new findings suggest that a person's risk of developing obesity is driven by populations of cells that process sensory stimuli and direct actions related to feeding and behavior. The researchers also identified specific brain cell types that support a role of learning and memory in obesity. The next step, researchers said, is to explore how defects in parts of the brain traditionally known to regulate memory and integration of sensory signals may make people more vulnerable to become obese.