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Brain’s support cells play role in hunger

Once considered just helpers for neurons, astrocytes affect mice’s appetites

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1:00pm, June 1, 2014

A “stop eating” hormone casts a wide net in the brain. After a large meal, fat cells churn out an appetite suppressant called leptin, which hits the brain’s neurons and tickles other kinds of brain cells called astrocytes. In certain situations, these astrocytes help control hunger, scientists report June 1 in Nature Neuroscience.

The results feed into a growing set of studies that elevate the status of astrocytes from mere support cells to regulators of important behavior such as eating. “That historical notion that they are cushions for the neurons to feel comfortable or protected is not the case,” says study coauthor Tamas Horvath of the Yale School of Medicine.

Scientists already knew that neurons in the brain’s hypothalamus, a region involved in feeding behavior, can sense and respond to leptin. Mice with neurons insensitive to the hormone overeat and become obese. And

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