A research team has now identified a specific circuit in the brain that changes the impulsivity of the food.
You are on a diet, but the popcorn scent in the lobby of the movie theater triggers an almost overwhelming urge.
Within seconds, you ordered a tub of the stuff and a few handfuls of food were eaten.
Impulsivity has been related to excessive food intake, binge eating, weight gain and obesity, along with several psychiatric disorders including drug addiction and excessive gambling, without thinking about the consequences of an action.
A researcher’s team that includes a faculty member at the University of Georgia has now identified a particular circuit in the brain which changes the impulsivity of food, providing the ability for researchers to develop therapeutics to address overeating sometime.
The results of the research have recently been published in the journal Nature Communications.
The assistant professor at the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, Emily Noble, who served on the paper as the lead author said: “There’s underlying physiology in your brain that is regulating your capacity to say no to (impulsive eating),” Emily Noble added: “In experimental models, you can activate that circuitry and get a specific behavioral response.”
Using a rat model, researchers focused on a subset of brain cells generating a type of hypothalamus transmitter called melanin concentrated hormone (MCH) .
Although previous research has shown that that levels of MCH in the brain can increase the intake of food, this study is the first to show that MCH also plays a role in impulsive behaviour, Noble said.
Noble said that:”We found that when we activate the cells in the brain that produce MCH, animals become more impulsive in their behavior around food,”
Researchers trained rats to press a lever to get a “delicious, high-fat, high-sugar” pellet to test impulsivity, Noble said. The rat however, had to wait between lever presses for 20 seconds. If the rat pressed the lever too soon, a further 20 seconds had to wait.
Scientists then used advanced techniques to activate a particular neural pathway between the hypothalamus and the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning and memory function.
The findings showed that MCH has no affect on how much the animals liked the food or how much they were willing to work for the food. Rather, the circuit acted on the animals’ inhibitory control, or their ability to stop themselves from trying to get the food.
Noble said, “Activating this specific pathway of MCH neurons increased impulsive behavior without affecting normal eating for caloric need or motivation to consume delicious food,”
“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, ” Noble added.


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