Scientists Finally Find Elusive Hormone Leptin in Birds

Scientists Finally Find Elusive Hormone Leptin in Birds

Researchers have found leptin – a hormone that regulates body fat storage, metabolism and appetite – in the Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata).

How does the Arctic tern fly more than 70,000 km in its annual roundtrip North Pole-to-South Pole migration? How does the incubate eggs for months during the Antarctic winter without eating? These physiological gymnastics would usually be influenced by leptin. However, this hormone has gone missing in birds – until now.

Scientists Finally Find Elusive Hormone Leptin in Birds
Photo: Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Prof Joel Duff from the University of Akron made the initial discovery by comparing ancient fish and reptile leptins to predict the bird sequence.

The scientist along with his colleagues identified the sequence in multiple bird genomes and found that the genomic region where leptin was found is similar to that of other vertebrates.

They then constructed computer models of the bird leptin’s 3D structure and performed experiments to show that the bird leptin can bind to a bird leptin receptor.

The research team’s paper about the discovery was published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

“It has been a pretty big deal because people wanted to study leptin in birds for the poultry industry, for instance, to develop faster growing and tastier chicken,” said study senior author Prof Richard Londraville.

“Interestingly, leptin has yet to be discovered in chickens, perhaps because their gene structure varies from that of other birds.”


Prokop JW et al. 2014. Discovery of the Elusive Leptin in Birds: Identification of Several ‘Missing Links’ in the Evolution of Leptin and Its Receptor. PLoS ONE 9 : e92751; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092751

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