NIH Researchers Identify Gene in Mice That Controls Food Cravings, Desire to Exercise
NIH researchers have discovered a gene in mice that controls the craving for fatty and sugary foods and the desire to exercise. The gene, Prkar2a, is highly expressed in the habenula, a tiny brain region involved in responses to pain, stress, anxiety, sleep and reward. The findings could inform future research to prevent obesity and its accompanying risks for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The study was conducted by Dr. Edra London, a staff scientist in the section on endocrinology and genetics at NICHD, and colleagues. It appears in JCI Insight.
Prkar2a contains the information needed to make 2 subunits—molecular components—of the enzyme protein kinase A. Enzymes speed up chemical reactions, either helping to combine smaller molecules into larger molecules, or to break down larger molecules into smaller ones. Protein kinase A is the central enzyme that speeds reactions inside cells in many species. In a previous study, the NICHD team found that, despite being fed a high-fat diet, mice lacking functioning copies of Prkar2a were less likely to become obese than wild type mice with normally functioning Prkar2a.