Neurons that control overeating also drive appetite for cocaine

June 24, 2012

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have zeroed in on a set of neurons in the part of the brain that controls hunger, and found that these neurons are not only associated with overeating, but also linked to non-food associated behaviors, like novelty-seeking and drug addiction.

Published in the June 24 online issue of Nature Neuroscience, the study was led by Marcelo O. Dietrich, postdoctoral associate, and Tamas L. Horvath, the Jean and David W. Wallace Professor of Biomedical Research and chair of comparative medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

In attempts to develop treatments for such as obesity and diabetes, researchers have paid increasing attention to the brain's reward circuits located in the midbrain, with the notion that in these patients, food may become a type of "drug of abuse" similar to cocaine. Dietrich notes, however, that this study flips the common wisdom on its head.

"Using , we found that increased appetite for food can actually be associated with decreased interest in novelty as well as in cocaine, and on the other hand, less interest in food can predict increased interest in cocaine," said Dietrich.

Horvath and his team studied two sets of . In one set, they knocked out a signaling molecule that controls hunger-promoting neurons in the . In the other set, they interfered with the same neurons by eliminating them selectively during development using . The mice were given various non-invasive tests that measured how they respond to novelty, and anxiety, and how they react to cocaine.

"We found that animals that have less interest in food are more interested in novelty-seeking behaviors and drugs like cocaine," said Horvath. "This suggests that there may be individuals with increased drive of the reward circuitry, but who are still lean. This is a complex trait that arises from the activity of the basic feeding circuits during development, which then impacts the adult response to drugs and novelty in the environment."

Horvath and his team argue that the hypothalamus, which controls vital functions such as body temperature, hunger, thirst fatigue and sleep, is key to the development of higher brain functions. "These hunger-promoting neurons are critically important during development to establish the set point of higher brain functions, and their impaired function may be the underlying cause for altered motivated and cognitive behaviors," he said.

"There is this contemporary view that obesity is associated with the increased drive of the reward circuitry," Horvath added. "But here, we provide a contrasting view: that the reward aspect can be very high, but subjects can still be very lean. At the same time, it indicates that a set of people who have no interest in food, might be more prone to ."

Related Stories

Receptor limits the rewarding effects of food and cocaine

July 12, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Researchers have long known that dopamine, a brain chemical that plays important roles in the control of normal movement, and in pleasure, reward and motivation, also plays a central role in substance ...

Free radicals crucial to suppressing appetite, study finds

August 28, 2011

Obesity is growing at alarming rates worldwide, and the biggest culprit is overeating. In a study of brain circuits that control hunger and satiety, Yale School of Medicine researchers have found that molecular mechanisms ...

Recommended for you

Research grasps how the brain plans gripping motion

July 28, 2015

With the results of a new study, neuroscientists have a firmer grasp on the way the brain formulates commands for the hand to grip an object. The advance could lead to improvements in future brain-computer interfaces that ...

New research rethinks how we grab and hold onto objects

July 28, 2015

It's been a long day. You open your fridge and grab a nice, cold beer. A pretty simple task, right? Wrong. While you're debating between an IPA and a lager, your nervous system is calculating a complex problem: how hard to ...

It don't mean a thing if the brain ain't got that swing

July 27, 2015

Like Duke Ellington's 1931 jazz standard, the human brain improvises while its rhythm section keeps up a steady beat. But when it comes to taking on intellectually challenging tasks, groups of neurons tune in to one another ...

Sleep makes our memories more accessible, study shows

July 27, 2015

Sleeping not only protects memories from being forgotten, it also makes them easier to access, according to new research from the University of Exeter and the Basque Centre for Cognition, Brain and Language. The findings ...

Static synapses on a moving structure: Mind the gap!

July 22, 2015

In biology, stability is important. From body temperature to blood pressure and sugar levels, our body ensures that these remain within reasonable limits and do not reach potentially damaging extremes. Neurons in the brain ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Telekinetic
not rated yet Jun 24, 2012
I'd bet the farm that you could add gambling into the mix.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.