Scientists have identified a specific circuit in the brain that alters food impulsivity. The findings, according to the researchers may help design a treatment that might address the problem of overeating. Food impulsivity is defined as a response that is triggered after seeing a certain food. When you act upon it without thinking about the consequences, you could be a victim of food impulsivity. This pattern has been linked to excessive food intake, binge eating, weight gain, and obesity, along with several psychiatric disorders including drug addiction and also gambling. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
"There's underlying physiology in your brain that is regulating your capacity to say no to (impulsive eating)," said study lead author Emily Noble, Assistant Professor at University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
"In experimental models, you can activate that circuitry and get a specific behavioural response," Noble said.
For the study, the scientists used a rat model. The researchers focused on a subset of brain cells in the mice that produce a type of transmitter in the hypothalamus called melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH).
While previous research has shown that elevating MCH levels in the brain can increase food intake, this study is the first to show that MCH also plays a role in impulsive behavior.
"We found that when we activate the cells in the brain that produce MCH, animals become more impulsive in their behaviour around food," Noble said.
"Activating this specific pathway of MCH neurons increased impulsive behaviour without affecting normal eating for caloric need or motivation to consume delicious food," Noble said.
"Understanding that this circuit, which selectively affects food impulsivity exists opens the door to the possibility that one day we might be able to develop therapeutics for overeating that help people stick to a diet without reducing normal appetite or making delicious foods less delicious," she added.
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