Researchers looked at 42 overweight or obese people who took part in a 12-week weight-loss program that cut their daily calorie intake by 30 percent.
The participants' resting sympathetic nerve activity was measured at the start of the study.
The sympathetic nervous system, which spreads throughout the body, regulates many functions, including control of resting metabolic rate and the use of calories from food consumption.
The researchers found that successful weight losers had significantly higher resting sympathetic nerve activity than those who had trouble shedding pounds.
They also found that successful weight losers showed large increases in nerve activity after they ate a carbohydrate test meal. This did not occur in those who were weight-loss resistant.
The study will appear in the February 2012 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
"We have demonstrated for the first time that resting muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) is a significant independent predictor of weight-loss outcome in a cohort of overweight or obese subjects," lead author Nora Straznicky, of the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, said in a journal news release.
"Our findings provide two opportunities. First, we may be able to identify those persons who would benefit most from lifestyle weight-loss interventions such as dieting.
Secondly, the findings may also help in developing weight-loss treatments through stimulating this specific nervous activity."