According to the study, published Thursday in the journal Science, certain bacteria cause inflammation that can affect appetite as well as inflammatory bowel conditions like Crohn's disease and colitis.
Senior author Andrew Gewirtz of Emory University School of Medicine said the research suggests that bacteria may play a role — perhaps a population of bacteria that thrive because other, competing organisms have been wiped out by antibiotics, access to clean water and other factors of modern life.
Gewirtz and his colleagues examined mice that were genetically engineered to be deficient in a key immune system protein - TLR5 - which helps cells detect the presence of bacteria.
The immune system fails to properly regulate bacteria without TLR5. As the bacterial composition changes, a low level inflammation sets in and insulin receptors are desensitized.
The protein-deficient mice ate about 10 percent more food and became about 20 percent heavier than normal mice.
They also developed metabolic syndrome, a cluster of disorders that in humans increases the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
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