Researchers have discovered in fruit flies a key metabolic hormone thought to be the exclusive property of vertebrates. The hormone, leptin, is a nutrient sensor, regulating energy intake and output and ultimately controlling appetite. As such, it is of keen interest to researchers investigating obesity and diabetes on the molecular level. But until now, complex mammals such as mice have been the only models for investigating the mechanisms of this critical hormone. These new findings suggest that fruit flies can provide significant insights into the molecular underpinnings of fat sensing.

“Leptin is very complex,” said Akhila Rajan, first author on the paper and a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Norbert Perrimon, James Stillman Professor of Developmental Biology at Harvard Medical School. “These types of hormones acquire more and more complex function as they evolve. Here in the fly we’re seeing leptin in its most likely primitive form.”

These findings appear September 28 in Cell.

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