Metabolism research: body weight controlled by brain

Metabolism research: body weight controlled by brain

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Metabolism research over the past 20 years

The latest results of metabolism and brain research paint an increasingly clear picture of the influences on which one's own body weight is controlled. There seem to be far more factors involved than the number of calories consumed. The brain itself is a largely unknown influencer of weight, as a renowned metabolic researcher has uncovered in 20 years of research.

Professor Jens Brüning is a director at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research and at the same time one of the world's most recognized experts in the research of energy metabolism in the brain. In his research, he has shown that the brain, in interaction with the hormone insulin, plays a central role in controlling body weight.

Obesity has many causes

In his studies, Brüning reports that our brain plays a key role in energy metabolism through a fine-tuned system of hormones, their control signals and certain brain cells and thus has a direct influence on body weight. Given the ever increasing number of overweight people, his findings play a major role in developing effective countermeasures. Lack of willpower as the main cause of obesity is therefore considered outdated.

Insulin and diabetes

In the past 20 years, the metabolism expert has been involved in numerous well-regarded studies. He contributed to the realization that diabetes develops when body cells no longer respond to the hormone insulin or when the body does not produce enough insulin. Insulin plays a special role among hormones because, according to Brüning, it is the only hormone that can lower the level of glucose in the body.

Blood glucose

In healthy people, the blood sugar level is within defined limits. After eating, it rises sharply - with physical exertion it drops quickly. Much of the glucose is consumed by the muscles. Excess sugar gets into the liver, where it is converted to fat as a long-term storage.

The brain participates in energy metabolism

In further research, Brüning and his team succeeded in specifically switching off receptors for insulin in certain tissues such as muscles, liver or brain. In this way, more could be learned about the hormone. For the first time, it was possible to demonstrate the brain's involvement in energy metabolism.

Brain cells control responses to insulin

The findings led to the discovery of a small group of cells: the so-called AgRP cells in the hypothalamus. This region of the brain is involved in most hormonally controlled processes. Using the latest technology, the team around Brüning was able to show that the AgRP cells not only control appetite, but also determine how much glucose the liver releases from our fat reserves. The brain cells also control how sensitive the body is to insulin.

What happens in the body when overweight?

Brüning also discovered that the AgRP cells of obese people no longer respond to insulin. Insulin resistance occurs, which means that the cells can no longer perform their task properly. This discovery forms the basis for the development of anti-obesity drugs.

Award-winning research

Brüning's groundbreaking research was recently awarded the Heinrich Wieland Prize, which is endowed with 100,000 euros. "In the past 20 years, Jens Brüning has provided groundbreaking research to identify the key function of the brain in regulating the metabolism and to uncover its control of blood sugar, appetite and body weight," summarizes Professor F.-Ulrich Hart from the award Panel together. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation: Heinrich Wieland Prize (accessed: November 7, 2019),
  • Science information service: How the brain controls our body weight (accessed: November 7, 2019),

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