Obesity has reached epidemic proportions worldwide and affects more than 40% of adults in the United States. People with obesity have a greater likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or chronic kidney disease. Changes in diet and exercise can be difficult to follow and result in minimal weight loss that is rarely sustained overtime. In fact, in people with obesity, weight loss can lower the metabolism leading to increased weight gain. New drugs may help some individuals achieve 5 to 10% weight loss but have side effects that prevent long-term use.
Previous studies in mice show that a hormone called Lipocalin-2 (LCN2) suppresses appetite. It also reduces body weight and improves sugar metabolism in the animals. But whether this hormone has the same effects in humans or other primates is unclear. If it does, LCN2 might be a potential obesity treatment.
Now, Petropoulou et al. show that LCN2 suppressed appetite in humans and monkeys. In human studies, LCN2 levels increased after a meal in individuals with normal weight or overweight, but not in individuals with obesity. Higher levels of LCN2 in a person’s blood were also associated with a feeling of reduced hunger. Using brain scans, Petropoulou et al. showed that LCN2 crossed the blood-brain barrier in monkeys and bound to the hypothalamus, the brain center regulating appetite and energy balance. LCN2 also bound to human and monkey hypothalamus tissue in laboratory experiments. When injected into monkeys, the hormone suppressed food intake and lowered body weight without toxic effects in short-term studies.
The experiments lay the initial groundwork for testing whether LCN2 might be a useful treatment for obesity. More studies in animals will help scientists understand how LCN2 works, which patients might benefit, how it would be given to patients and for how long. Clinical trials would also be needed to verify whether it is an effective and safe treatment for obesity.