The Big Red Button

The Brain’s Control Center for Diabetes and Obesity

Yesterday, Michael Schwartz delivered this year’s Blackburn Lecture in Obesity Medicine. The lecture series honors both the memory of George Blackburn and individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the science of obesity. Schwartz painted a remarkably clear picture of some complex neuroscience. Evidence is accumulating to describe the brain’s control center for diabetes and obesity.

Regulating the Set Point for Fat Mass

Within the hypothalamus, the brain acts to maintain a constant fat mass. It’s a store of energy that helps to ensure our survival in lean times. But in obesity, the set point for that fat mass becomes distorted. The body sets and protects a higher fat mass, which in turn leads to many health complications, including type 2 diabetes.

A Set Point for Glucose

In his lecture, Schwartz described the very latest research on how the brain regulates glucose metabolism. With striking similarities to its role in obesity, the hypothalamus appears to establish a set point for blood glucose. In concert with the pancreas, it maintains that level. But in type 2 diabetes, that set point becomes unhealthy. Schwartz described research on brain development. In certain critical phases of brain development, this function can change. It can set the stage for type 2 diabetes later in life.

You might wonder, so what? Well part of the story remains to be told. But here’s the thing. We have ever better insight into how the hypothalamus controls metabolic functions that go bad in both type 2 diabetes and obesity. With that insight comes the promise for far better therapies. Certainly remissions, and even, possibly, cures.

So what? The neuroscience that Schwartz and his colleagues are mapping out represents some of the best hope we have for reversing diabetes and obesity pandemics. We need more of this solid science.

Bring it on.

Click here for more on the emerging role of the brain in regulating glucose and energy metabolism.

The Big Red Button, photograph © włodi / flickr

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June 16, 2018

3 Responses to “The Brain’s Control Center for Diabetes and Obesity”

  1. June 16, 2018 at 12:19 pm, Stephen Phillips said:

    Thanks for sharing this excellent research

    Reprogramming the body weight set point by a reciprocal interaction of hypothalamic leptin sensitivity and Pomc gene expression reverts extreme obesity

    Emerging bariatric science continues to reveal many of the gut-brain cross talking chemical messengers that contribute to obesities.
    Identifying these messengers and their centers of action offers a bright future for our ability to mediate these messengers and ultimately treat/prevent obesities

  2. June 16, 2018 at 7:06 pm, Beth Oliver said:

    Is there any way to get a transcript of Michael Schwartz ? Dr Blackburn was a wonderful teacher . I had the opportunity to work with him in ASPEN and attend his courses . Thank you

    • June 17, 2018 at 3:06 am, Ted said:

      Beth, my suggestion would be to reach out to the course organizers. I haven’t seen transcriptions of these lectures before.