Researchers have identified a potential new biological marker for the development of obesity, according to a study published online May 11, 2016 in the journal Nature.
May 13, 2016
Neurotensin, also known as NT or NTS, is a 13-amino-acid neuropeptide produced mainly in the gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system. It is released with fat ingestion and facilitates fatty acid absorption in the intestine.
Previous research has shown that NT can also stimulate the growth of various cancers and increased fasting levels of pro-NT (an NT precursor hormone) are associated with development of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.
The new study, led by Dr. Mark Evers from the University of Kentucky, examined data from the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study, a population-based, prospective epidemiologic cohort of 28,449 men and women who were followed for an average of 16.5±1.5 years.
The analysis showed that obese and insulin-resistant subjects have significantly elevated levels of fasting pro-NT, and the risk of developing obesity was doubled in non-obese subjects who had fasting pro-NT at the highest concentrations compared to subjects with the lowest concentrations.
The study further used animal models to show that a deficiency in NT protects against obesity, insulin resistance and fatty liver disease associated with high fat consumption, thus identifying NT as a potential early marker of future obesity and a novel therapeutic target for this disease.
“Our findings have redefined how we view the role of NT,” Dr. Evers said.
“NT appears to be a metabolically ‘thrifty’ peptide which increases the absorption of ingested fats; however, with the abundance of fats in typical Western diets, NT can have a detrimental effect by contributing to increased obesity and related metabolic disorders.”
“Additionally, because NT can contribute to the growth of certain cancers and is now linked with obesity, increased NT may contribute to the higher incidence of certain cancers associated with obesity,” he added.
Jing Li et al. An obligatory role for neurotensin in high-fat-diet-induced obesity. Nature, published online May 11, 2016; doi: 10.1038/nature17662