Enzyme potential target for fight against obesity and diabetes

Nov 2015

Removing an enzyme that controls bile acid and hormone levels significantly protects female mice from weight gain, according to a new study presented today at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Edinburgh. The finding offers a new a therapeutic target in the fight against obesity.

Steroid hormones and bile acids have multiple functions that affect appetite, physical activity and how energy is used and stored in the body. For example, the sex hormone oestrogen (a steroid) has previously shown to decrease women’s appetite while firing up their metabolism and levels of physical activity. Bile acids are important to digest fats in diets, without which animals could not make the most out of a fatty food’s calorific content.

The enzyme 5β-Reductase helps generate bile acid and clears excess levels of steroid hormones in the human body.

In this study, researchers from the University of Oxford compared the effects of feeding wild mice a high calorie, fat-rich diet with mice that lacked the ability to make 5β-Reductase over a period of 30 weeks.

Female mice without 5β-Reductase gained 42% less weight than the wild mice (15.8g vs 27.2g respectively), while males in both experimental groups gained the same amount of weight. Female mice without 5β-Reductase also stored less fat around the gonads, vital organs and under their skin compared to wild mice, while also being more sensitive to insulin and better at controlling their blood glucose levels.

“The gender-specific health outcomes of our experiment are interesting but poorly understood”, said lead author of the study Dr Laura Gathercole. “It could be that lacking this key enzyme means female mice are less able to extract energy from their food, spend more energy to power their metabolism, or both at the same time”.

“Tweaking steroid and bile acid levels has significant health implications and so 5β-Reductase could be an important potential therapeutic target in metabolic disease”, she continued.

The researchers next steps are to pinpoint the mechanisms behind the phenomenon, which could provide insights into the different ways males and females regulate their energy and metabolisms.


Notes for editors

1. The study Female 5β-reductase knockout mice are protected from diet induced obesity, insulin resistance and glucose intolerance will be presented by Dr Laura Gathercole at the Society for Endocrinology’s annual conference at 17.30 GMT, room OC3.6 on Tuesday 3 November 2015. Please note this is a conference abstract, and this study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

2. For press enquiries, please contact the Society for Endocrinology press office: 

Omar Jamshed

Communications Executive                   

Tel: +44 (0)1454 642 206 (office)                       

Tel: +44 (0) 7876824027 (mobile)           


3. The Society for Endocrinology’s annual conference is held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre from 2-4 November 2015. The conference features some of the world’s leading basic and clinical endocrinologists who present their work. Journalists wishing to attend should contact the Society for Endocrinology press office using the details above. The scientific programme is available on the conference webpage.

4. The Society for Endocrinology is a UK-based membership organisation representing a global community of scientists, clinicians and nurses who work with hormones. Together we aim to improve public health by advancing endocrine education and research, and engaging wider audiences with the science of hormones.