Study identifies microprotein to help cancer patients gain weight

Microprotein could eventually be developed into a therapeutic to promote weight gain in those experiencing extreme weight loss

Obesity and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, are extremely common in the United States. Tiny proteins called microproteins have long been overlooked in research, but new evidence demonstrates that they have an important role in metabolism. Scientists at the Salk Institute in the US have discovered that both brown and white fat is filled with thousands of previously unknown microproteins, and show that one of these microproteins, called Gm8773, can increase appetite in mice.

These findings could lead to the development of a therapeutic to help people gain weight in certain disease situations, such as during chemotherapy for cancer. Furthermore, by establishing the existence of these microproteins, the team provides a valuable resource for the scientific community to study microproteins as well.

“It is vital to better understand the processes that regulate obesity and metabolic health in order to provide improved therapies for the future,” says Salk Professor Alan Saghatelian, co-corresponding author of the study and holder of the Dr. Frederik Paulsen Chair. “Having this list of microproteins will aid the field of metabolism in identifying new players in a variety of metabolic diseases. And we’ve demonstrated one biologically active microprotein that promotes feeding, as well as other microproteins that are involved in fat metabolism.”

The team focused in on a microprotein called Gm8773, located in the feeding centre of the brain, called the hypothalamus. When the scientists administered Gm8773 to obese mice, the mice consumed more food. There is also a human gene similar to Gm8773 called FAM237B, and this gene could act similarly in humans to promote eating.

In the future, the scientists plan to develop tools to investigate the roles of Gm8773 and FAM237B with the goal of eventually developing a therapeutic that can increase appetite in humans.

Image credit- shutterstock

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