The study also shows that ESRRA levels are controlled by energy status in the mice. Restricting calorie intake to 60 per cent of normal over several days significantly increased levels of ESRRA in the brains of normal mice.
ESRRA is a transcription factor – a gene that turns on other genes. Lutter and his colleagues previously found that a mutation that reduces ESRRA activity is associated with an increased risk for eating disorders in human patients.
Through a series of experiments with genetically engineered mice, Lutter and his team showed that mice without the ESRRA gene have behavioural abnormalities related to eating and social behaviour.
“Clearly social factors, particularly the western ideal of thinness, contribute the remaining ‘non-genetic’ risk,” Lutter noted.