Anorexia is one of several abnormalities characterizing chronic kidney disease (CKD) that cause cachexia, the loss of muscle and adipose stores. It has been attributed to mechanisms ranging from accumulation of toxic “middle molecules” to psychological problems. In this issue of the JCI, Cheung and coworkers used elegant techniques to demonstrate that CKD-associated anorexia is caused by defective hypothalamic regulation of appetite. They attributed the defect to an alteration in the hypothalamus’s response to leptin and inflammation. Since similar hypothalamic defects suppress appetite in inflammatory states and in cancer, it is possible that anorexia in several cachexia-inducing conditions results from a common set of hypothalamic abnormalities. The development of small molecules capable of preventing these regulatory abnormalities holds the promise of eliminating the contribution of anorexia to the development of cachexia.
William E. Mitch