Nutrition, Dia(O)besity and the Brain

The research of the 'la Fleur' group aims to unravel the mechanistic link between diet composition and the development of obesity and diabetes as a first step towards better understanding the pathogenesis of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, focussing on the role of the brain.

We focus in our work on two dietary components known to be involved in the development of obesity and diabetes: fat and sugar. We developed a model in which we provide animals with a dish of saturated fat and a bottle of sugar water in addition to balanced pelleted food and tap water to mimic the variety of food humans consume on a regular basis. Animals like to consume the extra fat an sugar and are doing so by showing snacking-like behavior, they rapidly become obese due to overcomsumption and develop insulin resistance and beta cell insufficiency and interestingly these changes are accompagnied by changes in the brain. We recently translated the animal work to a human experimental setting and showed, a in animals, that snacking fat-sugary drinks alters metabolism and brain centers involved in regulating the energy balance suggesting a role for diet composition ánd pattern in the development of obesity and diabetes.

Obesity and Diabetes
Obesity is a worldwide problem and increases the risk for the development of the Metabolic Syndrome and is associated with several co-morbidities such as Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Although alterations in glucose metabolism (i.e. insulin resistance, beta cell insufficiency) in the presence of excessive fat tissue are often explained by the consequences of dysfunctional adipose tissue evidence is emerging that also altered brain function might be an important determinant of diabetes development.

and the Brain
The brain ensures that glucose levels in the circulation are sufficient for its cells to function properly and therefore dictates eating behavior and influences glucose metabolism, thus it is not surprising that there is overlap in neural circuitry regulating feeding behavior and glucose metabolism. We study both the classical hypothalamic pathways but also cortico-limbic brain areas and their role in feeding behavior and glucose metabolism.

Susanne E. la Fleur, PhD

Dept Endocrinology and Metabolism
Academic Medical Center    

University of Amsterdam     
the Netherlands