Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Hamburgers, french fries, pastries and other fat-filled foods can create neurological changes that may lead to obesity, a new study says.
During an experiment, mice who ate a high-fat diet experienced hypothalamic inflammation which caused physical changes to their microglial cells, researchers report in a study published this month in Cell Metabolism.
The cells, which draw energy from food, were considerably smaller in the animals. The study suggests this leads them to consume more food to stay properly energized, researchers say.
"We were intrigued by the fact that these are very fast changes that occur even before the body weight changes, and we wanted to understand the underlying cellular mechanism," Sabrina Diano, a researcher at Yale University and study lead author, said in a news release.
The researchers found shrinkage of the microglial cells' mitochondria was caused by Uncoupling Protein 2, or UCP2, which controls energy use in the cells. This, in turn, influences the hypothalamus' ability to regulate energy and glucose homeostasis, which could lead to overeating.
The high-fat diet triggered inflammation that caused UCP2 to activate the microglial cells. That interaction affected neurons in the brain, which led to mice in the high-fat diet group to consume more food and become obese.
But when the researchers removed UCP2 from the cells, the mice ate less and became less likely to gain weight.
The researchers want to continue to learn more about the connection between the microglia and various diseases of the brain, like Alzheimer's disease. The neurological condition has been linked to changes in microglial cells, according to the National Institutes of Health.
"There are specific brain mechanisms that get activated when we expose ourselves to specific type of foods," Diano said. "This is a mechanism that may be important from an evolutionary point of view. However, when food rich in fat and carbs is constantly available it is detrimental."