obese-mainHave you ever wondered why some people can eat and eat but never gain weight while others easily put on pounds?

Scientists say that the body’s natural ability to control weight is tied to the body’s natural rate of burning energy, something called basal cellular metabolism. One of the reasons some people can eat without gaining weight is because they have higher metabolism rates.

A research team at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has discovered that altering the biochemical process that underlies a cell’s ability to burn energy could help speed a person’s metabolism possibly leading to new therapies in the worldwide fight against obesity and diabetes.

“With this discovery, we now have a means of metabolic manipulation that could help speed energy production and lead to weight loss,” said senior author Barbara Kahn from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard Medical School.

Writing in Nature, the Boston researchers’ said reducing the amount of the protein nicotinamide N-methyltransferase (NNMT) in the fat and liver cells of mice slowed the development of obesity and diabetes in mice. At the same time, they also confirmed that obese and diabetic mice had higher levels of NNMT in their liver and fat.

Structure of the NNMT protein (EMW via Wikimedia Commons)

Structure of the NNMT protein (EMW via Wikimedia Commons)

From this key piece of information, the researchers speculated that cutting down the levels of NNMT in these cells would speed up a series of metabolic reactions involving an organic compound called polyamines.

“Polyamines are a group of biological molecules that are found throughout the body, which have fundamental functions, including regulating cell growth,” said Daniel Kraus, a co-author of the study.

The accelerated metabolic reactions would increase the amount of calories the body burns as energy while at the same time would reduce the number of calories transformed into fat.

“While diet and exercise are important in controlling weight, anti-obesity therapies could be of tremendous help, and NNMT looks to be a promising target for future therapeutic development,” said Kahn.