The Italian Almanac


Italian Science - January 16

A hormone used in weight-loss drugs plays a vital role in blocking the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), a team of Italian researchers has discovered. A study by scientists from the Naples Federico II University has shown that isolating the hormone in mice halts the progress of the disease.

Leptin, a peptide hormone produced by fat cells, plays a role in weight regulation and the body's immune response. The findings, published by the prestigious US-based biology review, the Journal of Clinical Investigation, suggest that controlling leptin could also prove the key to future developments in battling MS.

The team first pinpointed the connection between leptin and MS two years ago, after discovering that levels of the hormone doubled just before the onset of the disease. They also found neurons in the brain lesions of diseased mice with MS produced large quantities of leptin. They consequently decided to test the effects of isolating the hormone in the brains of diseased mice, blocking it through specific antibodies and receptors.

The results were extremely promising, with an immediate halt to further progress in the disease. Furthermore, there were far fewer regressions and there was a drop in the number of immune cells associated with MS. Perhaps most important of all, the team, led by Giuseppe Matarese, believes the research has uncovered vital information regarding the molecular effects of leptin. Eventually, this could help them develop new techniques for treating the disease.