A new article out today in Science magazine looks at how CNTF (a nerve growth factor) may act to initiate and maintain weight loss. The study suggests that administering CNTF causes new growth of nerves in the hypothalamus (or recruits new cells into the hypothalamus).
If correct (and it is somewhat controversial) it would explain why CNTF seems to have long-term effects on weight loss and also support the view that the adult brain is more plastic (ie, able to grow and change) than previously thought. Note that a drug that mimics the effects of CNTF (Axokine) was in clinical trials, but patients developed antibodies to the drug, which stopped it from working. This study may re-stimulate drug companies to pursue new ways to activate the CNTF path of weight loss.
Neurogenesis in the Hypothalamus of Adult Mice: Potential Role in Energy Balance
Maia V. Kokoeva, Huali Yin, Jeffrey S. Flier. Science Vol. 310: 679 683, 2005