Mice give clues on anorexia

In the 1970s, American researchers discovered that some mice in their laboratory spontaneously stopped eating. The mice, called anx/anx, are now being studied by Ida Nilsson, a researcher at the Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery.

Ida Nilsson. Photo: Annika af Klercker.
Ida Nilsson. Photo: Annika af Klercker

What do you study?
“When we lose weight, we are usually very hungry and want to eat more, but for some reason this doesn’t apply in case of anorexia nervosa. I conduct research to understand the underlying reasons.”

Why do the anx/anx nice stop eating?
“Normally weight loss leads to reduced levels of leptin and insulin in the blood, which in turn causes the nerve cell in the hypothalamus in the brain to signal hunger. We have discovered that microglial cells are activated in the hypothalamus of anx/anx mice, which is a sign of inflammation. This might cause the hunger signalling to not function normally. We believe that the underlying reason for this is a problem with the mitochondria, the cells’ power plants.”

What can this tell us about anorexia nervosa in people?
"Our hypothesis is that problems with the mitochondria could be a risk factor that triggers corresponding inflammation in the hypothalamus during weight loss. We are now investigating if this is true, in which case it might be useful to give some patients treatment to counteract this in combination with the treatment given today."

Text: Ola Danielsson
First published in Swedish in Medicinsk Vetenskap No 4/2017.

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