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UTSA study finds obesity may impede learning

By Hector Benavides
Student Writer, College of Public Policy

(Aug. 15, 2005)--Researcher Matthew Wayner, a UTSA professor of biology, has found that obesity may have an effect on learning.

The study he is conducting focuses on the hormone leptin that regulates appetite and metabolism. Fatty tissues produce the hormone, which under normal conditions reduces the desire to eat.

Wayner's research with rats has found that an increase in the amount of leptin during a meal can enhance the ability of brain cells to function. However, larger increases in leptin due to obesity actually impair "long-term potentiation," which is a measure of the efficiency of the learning and memory process in the brain.

Additional experiments show that rats with normal amounts of leptin fared better than those with excessive amounts when put through a series of maze tests. The results of the research provide a physiological basis for the observations and reports that many obese children do poorly in their schoolwork and might be prone to having learning problems.

Wayner, who is the Jane and Roland Blumberg Professor of Life Sciences, has been at UTSA since 1982. While at UTSA, he has published 80 research articles in refereed national and international journals, and 115 abstracts from participation in scientific meetings.

NNOXe Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Quebec, Canada, recently named an award after Wayner, and it will be given each year to a senior translational behavioral neuroscientist for an outstanding research article. The first Matthew J. Wayner Award was presented in June to Michael Davis of Emory University at the annual International Behavioral Neuroscience conference.

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