The food ingredient hordenine in beer activates the reward centre in the brain

September 29, 2017
FAU-based researcher Thomas Sommer preparing a sample of beer. After processing, the level of hordenine in the sample is determined using high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. Credit: FAU/Katharina Götz

Visitors to the Oktoberfest have always known it and now it has been scientifically proven – beer can lift your spirits. Scientists at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) examined 13,000 food components to find out whether they stimulate the reward centre in the brain and make people feel good. Hordenine which is found in malted barley and beer seems to do the job quite well.

Some foods make us happy. Well, maybe not happy but they make us feel good. That is why we cannot stop eating when we have had enough. Scientists call this hedonic hunger – the drive to eat for pleasure rather than to satisfy an actual biological need. This feel-good effect is caused by the – tempting foods stimulate the reward centre in the brain where the D2 receptor is located. Researchers of the Chair of Food Chemistry at FAU investigated whether there are special in foods that activate the dopamine D2 receptor in the same way as dopamine.

The team worked with FAU's Computer Chemistry Centre using a virtual screening approach which is often used in pharmaceutical research. This process analyses in a computer simulation rather than in the laboratory. Using computer simulations means that all types of known substance can be investigated. In the laboratory, it is only feasible to test a small selection of foodstuff extracts using standard screening techniques.
13,000 molecules, 17 hits

Initially, the scientists set up a database of 13,000 molecules which are present in foodstuffs. Using this database, the objective was to find those molecules that fit the dopamine D2 receptor – rather like finding the right key for a lock. The system was then used to identify which molecules could interact with the dopamine D2 receptor; these might be present in synthetic substances already known to interact with the receptor, such as medicines for treating Parkinson's and schizophrenia, or which might be candidates for interaction due to the three-dimensional structure of the receptor. In the end, 17 of the original 13,000 options were selected and these were analysed in the laboratory in cooperation with the Division of Medicinal Chemistry at FAU.

Beer – a surprise finding

The most promising results were obtained for hordenine, a substance present in malted barley and . 'It came as a bit of surprise that a substance in beer activates the dopamine D2 receptor, especially as we were not specifically looking at stimulant foodstuffs,' explains Prof. Dr. Monika Pischetsrieder.

Just like dopamine, hordenine stimulates the dopamine D2 receptor, however it uses a different signalling pathway. In contrast with dopamine, hordenine activates the receptor solely through G proteins, potentially leading to a more prolonged effect on the reward centre of the brain. The team is now investigating whether hordenine levels in beer are sufficient to have a significant effect on the reward centre. All things considered, the results indicate that hordenine may well contribute to the mood-boosting effect of beer.

The researchers have published their findings in an article in Scientific Reports.

Explore further: Intracellular dopamine receptor function may offer hope to schizophrenia patients

More information: Thomas Sommer et al. Identification of the Beer Component Hordenine as Food-Derived Dopamine D2 Receptor Agonist by Virtual Screening a 3D Compound Database, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/srep44201

Related Stories

Intracellular dopamine receptor function may offer hope to schizophrenia patients

December 9, 2016
Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that plays an important role in controlling movement, emotion and cognition. Dopamine dysfunction is believed to be one of the causes of disorders like Schizophrenia, Tourette's syndrome, ...

High-fat diet alters reward system in rats

May 29, 2017
Exposure to high-fat diet from childhood may increase the sensitivity of the dopamine system later in adulthood, according to a study in male rats published in eNeuro. The research describes potential mechanisms that, if ...

Mouse studies offer new insights about cocaine's effect on the brain

February 15, 2017
Cocaine is one of the most addictive substances known to man, and for good reason: By acting on levels of the "feel-good" chemical dopamine, it produces a tremendous sensation of euphoria.

Scientists unveil critical mechanism of memory formation

November 19, 2015
In a new study that could have implications for future drug discovery efforts for a number of neurodegenerative diseases, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have found that the interaction ...

Replacing a palatable high-fat diet with low fat food causes withdrawal-like symptoms in mice

July 18, 2017
Researchers have found that mice fed a palatable high-fat diet experience stress responses that resemble drug withdrawal when their food is switched to a low-fat diet. A study conducted by Dr. Steve Fordahl, currently at ...

Mutations in FTO and dopamine receptor genes increase risk of obesity and diabetes

October 17, 2016
In the development of obesity and diabetes, signals from the brain play an important role. Here an important neurotransmitter is dopamine. DZD scientists from Tübingen and Munich, together with Swedish and American colleagues, ...

Recommended for you

Small but distinct differences among species mark evolution of human brain

November 23, 2017
The most dramatic divergence between humans and other primates can be found in the brain, the primary organ that gives our species its identity.

Team constructs whole-brain map of electrical connections key to forming memories

November 22, 2017
A team of neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania has constructed the first whole-brain map of electrical connectivity in the brain based on data from nearly 300 neurosurgical patients with electrodes implanted ...

To forget or to remember? Memory depends on subtle brain signals, scientists find

November 22, 2017
The fragrance of hot pumpkin pie can bring back pleasant memories of holidays past, while the scent of an antiseptic hospital room may cause a shudder. The power of odors to activate memories both pleasing and aversive exists ...

Pitch imperfect? How the brain decodes pitch may improve cochlear implants

November 22, 2017
Picture yourself with a friend in a crowded restaurant. The din of other diners, the clattering of dishes, the muffled notes of background music, the voice of your friend, not to mention your own – all compete for your ...

New research suggests high-intensity exercise boosts memory

November 22, 2017
The health advantages of high-intensity exercise are widely known but new research from McMaster University points to another major benefit: better memory.

Schizophrenia originates early in pregnancy, 'mini-brain' research suggests

November 20, 2017
Symptoms of schizophrenia usually appear in adolescence or young adulthood, but new research reveals that the brain disease likely begins very early in development, toward the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. The ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Sep 29, 2017
"...quite well." Until, that is, increased tolerance, the rebound effect and a subsequent lowering of the baseline with regular drinking kicks in.

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.