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CNC-UC team receives grant to study new therapeutic targets for the treatment of obesity

The team will conduct research on the interaction between gut microbiomes and adenosine receptors, which may help treat various diseases such as obesity.
7 june
From left to right: Ermelindo Leal, Eugénia Carvalho, Teresa Gonçalves, Rodrigo Cunha, André Lázaro, Lisa Rodrigues
From left to right: Ermelindo Leal, Eugénia Carvalho, Teresa Gonçalves, Rodrigo Cunha, André Lázaro, Lisa Rodrigues
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The research project "Mycobiota homeostasis under the regulation of adenosine receptors as pivotal players in obesity", conducted by a team led by Teresa Gonçalves, professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Coimbra (FMUC) and researcher at the Centre for Neuroscience and Cell Biology of the University of Coimbra (CNC-UC) was the winner of the 3rd edition of the National Grant for Research Projects, awarded by the Biocodex Microbiota Foundation. The study, with a funding of a 25 thousand euros prize, will be carried out over the period of 18 months, and may develop new therapeutic targets not only for obesity, but also for obesity-related diseases.

According to Teresa Gonçalves, there is increasing evidence that the micro-organisms living in the intestine (microbiota) contribute to our health. What is not more thoroughly known is how this set of microorganisms is regulated. “This project aims to discover whether adenosine is able to modulate the gut microbiota and, if so, manipulating it would allow to control the gut microbiota in order to prevent or mitigate obesity”, she adds.

The University of Coimbra professor underlines that obesity and associated diseases are complex, with various causes and difficult to treat. In addition to genetic and personal factors, such as nutrition quality or physical exercise, there are other factors that may contribute to these pathologies. One of these factors is the population of micro-organisms in the intestine - the intestinal microbiota - which is essential in defining how we process the food we eat.

Most studies of the gut microbiota have focused on the bacteria in the intestines. Fungal populations (mycobiota), which are also part of the gut microbiota, have been less studied, although there is already some data on their influence on chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes or inflammatory diseases. "The interaction of the microbiota with our organism involves receptors on the surface of each individual's cells, which may be at the origin of some of these morbidities. This interaction can lead to the worsening or, instead, to the improvement of symptoms", says the principal investigator of the Centre for Neuroscience and Cell Biology of the University of Coimbra.

Among these receptors are the adenosine receptors, which the team believes that, among other functions, may be able to control the intestinal mycobiota in the elderly. Adenosine receptors (A2A and A2B) are like sensors that exist in all human cells to identify signs of stress or effort - adenosine. These receptors are particularly important in controlling inflammation, preventing excessive tissue damage. The sensors may also contribute to the control of obesity. “What we will determine is the role of these sensors in the inflammation process and if, by using them, we can balance the mycobiota and, consequently, inflammation. This way, we can regulate the intestinal metabolism and, at the same time, prevent obesity", explains Teresa Gonçalves.

The theme chosen for the projects applying for the 2021/2022 edition of the National Grant for Research Projects was "Microbiota and ABCD - Adiposity-Based Chronic Disease". The projects were evaluated by an independent jury, consisting of the four members of the Scientific Committee of the Biocodex Microbiota Foundation in Portugal, who selected the work of the team led by Teresa Gonçalves.

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Original press release in Portuguese: CNC-UC

Abridged English version: Diana Taborda