DALLAS Oct. 17, 2008 A single molecule in the intestinal wall, activated by the waste products from gut bacteria, plays a large role in controlling whether the host animals are lean or fatty, a research team, including scientists from UT Southwestern Medical Center, has found in a mouse study.
When activated, the molecule slows the movement of food through the intestine, allowing the animal to absorb more nutrients and thus gain weight. Without this signal, the animals weigh less.
The study shows that the host can use bacterial byproducts not only as a source of nutrients, but also as chemical signals to regulate body functions. It also points the way to a potential method of controlling weight, the researchers said.
"It's quite possible that blocking this receptor molecule in the intestine might fight a certain kind of obesity by blocking absorption of energy from the gut," said Dr. Masashi Yanagisawa, professor of molecular genetics at UT Southwestern and a senior co-author of the study, which appears online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Humans, like other animals, have a large and varied population of beneficial bacteria that live in the intestines. The bacteria break up large molecules that the host cannot digest. The host in turn absorbs many of the resulting small molecules for energy and nutrients.
"The number of bacteria in our gut far exceeds the total number of cells in our bodies," said Dr. Yanagisawa.
"It's truly a mutually beneficial relationship. We provide the bacteria with food, and in return they supply energy and nutrients," he explained.
Using mice, the researchers focused on two species of bacteria that break up dietary fibers from food into small molecules called short-chain fatty acids. Dr. Yanagisawa's team previously had found that short-chain fatty acids bind to and activate a receptor molecule in the gut wall called Gpr41, although litt
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UT Southwestern Medical Center