A medication widely used to prevent blood clotting, heparin, can now be used as a potential target drug to regulate appetite and weight control, suggests a recent study.
The findings, conducted by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, US, suggested that heparin can potentially be a target for treating eating disorders, including overeating, a leading cause of obesity in the world.
Co-corresponding author Dr. Yong Xu said that in addition to its role as an anticoagulant, heparin is normally produced by the body, has been known to affect other biological functions.
"Our earlier studies showed that serum heparin levels in mice increased significantly during starvation. These encouraged us to explore a potential role of heparin in feeding control," said another study author Dr Gang Shu from South China Agricultural University.
The team discovered that heparin stimulates the AgRP neurons located in the hypothalamus, one of the most important appetite-modulating neurons, which results in increased production of AgRP protein, a neuropeptide that stimulates food intake.
Heparin also stimulates AgRP neurons to fire electric impulses and release of neurotransmitters.
Shu stated that they also demonstrated that heparin activates AgRP neurons by competing with insulin for binding to the insulin receptor.
"Insulin and heparin have opposite effects on AgRP neurons," Xu said.
Insulin treatment suppresses AgRP neuron firing of electrical impulses and expression of AgRP neuropeptides.
They found that heparin competes with and prevents insulin from binding to insulin receptors on AgRP neurons.
Although this study was conducted in animal models, it has potential implications for patients because the medication heparin is widely used in clinical settings to prevent blood clotting.
This study suggests that heparin can potentially be a target for treating eating disorders, including overeating, a leading cause of obesity in most of the world.
The research appears in journal of Cell Reports.