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Brain mechanisms for overeating discovered

Posted:  Thursday, March 10, 2016

Researchers discover brain areas responsible for excess food consumption and cravings! The role of the brain in influencing eating patterns has been under scrutiny for many years. A new preclinical study has provided valuable insights into the neurochemical mechanisms involved in overeating.

Published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience, the study looked at the neural circuitry involved in food consumption and cravings in laboratory rats. The researchers evaluated the behavior patterns of the rats after activating the nucleus accumbens, the region of the brain associated with pleasure. The rats were then fed a cookie dough-like diet.

The study found that rats with activated nucleus accumbens ate twice the normal amount. The rats stopped overeating once another brain area called the basolateral amygdala was simultaneously inactivated. However, they kept coming back to the food baskets in search of food. This behavior indicated an interruption in the brain circuitry is responsible for feeding but not the craving.

The researchers conducted a spin-off experiment to investigate the neural mechanisms involved in craving. They activated the nucleus accumbens and inactivated the basolateral amygdala in one group of rats but not the other. However, this time, the rats were allowed access to only a limited amount of the high-fat diet.

The researchers found the same feeding behaviors in both groups of rats. However, rats with activated nucleus accumbens had increased dopamine neuron activity. The activation status of the basolateral amygdala had no effect on dopamine signaling. In rats with an activated basolateral amygdala, the researchers found elevated levels of orexin-A in the hypothalamus, which is known to be connected with appetite.

Explaining the results, the researchers said, "We showed that what could be blocking the consumption behaviour is this block of the orexin behaviour. The results reinforced the idea that dopamine is involved in the approach or the craving phase and orexin-A in the consumption.”

The study findings provide an improved understanding of the various aspects of overeating and drug addiction. This study could pave the way for the development of drugs that reduce overeating with limited side effects.

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