U.K. scientists map structure of crucial obesity receptor region

University of Sheffield scientists say they've figured out the structure of a significant part of the human obesity receptor, which could lead to development of treatments for both obesity-related diseases and anorexia.

You've probably heard this before: that scientists are "one step closer" to paving the way to developing viable drugs that combat obesity-related health problems. Well, judge for yourself whether that's true or not in this case. In short, using X-ray crystallography, the U.K. researchers say they were able to map the crystal structure of the leptin-binding portion of the obesity receptor.

Leptin is key here of course. Fat produces the hormone, and too much of it can lead to all kinds of problems for overweight and obese folks, including multiple sclerosis, cancer and heart disease, the researchers note. Too little of it (when malnutrition hits, for example) can lead to infertility, immunodeficiency and other problems.

This is what makes successful mapping of the leptin-binding portion of the obesity receptor so important. By having that map in play now, scientists can start designing potential drugs that alter how it works. Some drugs could perhaps slow down or block the receptor to treat obesity-related health problems. Others could stimulate it or speed it up to improve fertility or boost immune response, the researchers explain.

So much of research happens in increments, which are sometimes quite miniscule. But drug developers only need to know clearly what their drug target looks like to start testing compounds that alter how the target works. So the finding is indeed a good--and interesting--first step. Further details are published in the journal Structure.

- read the release
- check out the journal summary