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A fat hormone that regulates blood sugar

Wednesday 6 November 2019 3:52pm

Kaj Kamstra CNE PhD Prize 2019Each year the Centre for Neuroendocrinology awards the CNE PhD Prize to an outstanding PhD student. This year, in a very tight competition, Kaj Kamstra won the prize for his work on the hormone leptin in zebrafish and how it controls metabolism.

In mammals leptin is produced by fat cells and helps to regulate food intake to balance body weight. Kaj’s work, however, shows that inactivating this signalling pathway does not influence body weight in zebrafish. Kaj found that, instead, leptin acts more in a fashion similar to insulin the key hormone in regulating blood glucose levels. This suggests that from an evolutionary perspective leptin may have evolved as a blood sugar regulator, only to then later adopt the function of influencing body fat content in mammals.

The PhD Prize competition where 2 students gave their presentations was part of the biannual retreat of CNE, which this year was held at Orokonui Ecosanctuary near Dunedin. Caroline Focke also gave a great talk on her research on hypothalamic stress neurons (CRH neurons), and how they change their activity patterns across the 24 h day to regulate alertness and stress responses.

The retreat was concluded with the ‘2019 CNE Lecture’ by Prof Sue Moenter from the University of Michigan who presented her work on Estrogen feedback on the hypothalamic networks regulating fertility.