Obesity and Stress Share Common Molecular Pathways

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Metabolic syndrome, including abdominal obesity and diabetes as well as stress are highly prevalent in world population. An interesting biological link between obesity and stress or anxiety-related disorders was recently reported by Prof. Hermona Soreq’s team of researchers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Their study published in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine, demonstrates a molecular connection between these two conditions. The link is a type of microRNA that is shown to influence mechanisms affecting both these states, thus highlighting the use of this molecule as a therapeutic target for these diseases.

What are microRNAs?

MicroRNAs are small, single stranded RNA molecules that bind specific messenger RNAs to halt the process of protein synthesis. Thus, these molecules serve as one of the potent mechanisms to differentially regulate protein production during different cellular needs.

microRNAs, stress and obesity

The present study has revealed the molecular elements that bridge anxiety and metabolism – a type of microRNA that influences shared biological mechanisms.

“We already know that there is a connection between body and mind, between the physical and the emotional, and studies show that psychological trauma affects the activity of many genes. Our previous research found a link between microRNA and stressful situations – stress and anxiety generate an inflammatory response and dramatically increase the expression levels of microRNA regulators of inflammation in both the brain and the gut, for example the situation of patients with Crohn’s disease may get worse under psychological stress,” says Prof. Soreq.

After their initial study, they moved to study the correlation of obesity with microRNAs activated by stress. According to their findings, some of the microRNAs that reduce inflammation during stress also act synergistically to metabolic syndrome related-processes Interestingly, these microRNAs share a common pool of regulatory elements in both conditions. These microRNAs include regulators of acetylcholine signaling in the nervous system and their accompanying molecular machinery.

While almost 35% of USA population suffers from metabolic syndrome, stress related anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or phobia are also on the rise. In such a scenario, identification of a molecular link between these two conditions will be useful for treatment of both type of patients.

“The discovery has a diagnostic value and practical implications, because the activity of microRNAs can be manipulated by DNA-based drugs,” explains Prof. Soreq. “It also offers an opportunity to reclassify ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ anxiety and metabolic-prone states, and inform putative strategies to treat these disorders.”

Laurel and Hardy and the microRNA connection – it's not coincidental that the heavier character is also the most anxious of the duo (credit: Petra Pollins)
Laurel and Hardy and the microRNA connection – it’s not coincidental that the heavier character is also the most anxious of the duo (credit: Petra Pollins)

Source: Hebrew University of JerusalemOriginal paper can be found here.