Purpose of review: Hypothalamic inflammation and gliosis are recently discovered mechanisms that may contribute to obesity pathogenesis. Current research in this area suggests that investigation of these central nervous system responses may provide opportunities to develop new weight loss treatments.
Recent findings: In rodents, hypothalamic inflammation and gliosis occur rapidly with high-fat diet consumption prior to significant weight gain. In addition, sensitivity or resistance to diet-induced obesity in rodents generally correlates with the presence or absence of hypothalamic inflammation and reactive gliosis (brain response to injury). Moreover, functional interventions that increase or decrease inflammation in neurons and glia correspondingly alter diet-associated weight gain. However, some conflicting data have recently emerged that question the contribution of hypothalamic inflammation to obesity pathogenesis. Nevertheless, several studies have detected gliosis and disrupted connectivity in obese humans, highlighting the potential translational importance of this mechanism.
Summary: There is growing evidence that obesity is associated with brain inflammation in humans, particularly in the hypothalamus where its presence may disrupt body weight control and glucose homeostasis. More work is needed to determine whether this response is common in human obesity and to what extent it can be manipulated for therapeutic benefit.