Scientists identify potential target for the treatment of binge eating

A small group of nerve cells located in the hypothalamus could provide a promising new therapeutic target for the control of binge eating among obese individuals, according to a study presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior this week.

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The “orexin” neurons, which are named after the hormone that enables their communication with other neurons in the brain, have previously been shown to play a key role in drug addiction.

Several key symptoms of eating disorders, such as the sense of losing control, overlap with what we know about the driven nature of drug addiction. Since the orexin system has been implicated in addiction to drugs of abuse, we targeted it to understand the change in food motivation caused by repeated episodes of binge eating."

Dr Gary Aston-Jones, Senior Author

For the study, scientists from Rutgers Brain Health Institute fed female rats either a sugary, high-fat diet designed to trigger weight gain and binge eating or a control diet.

The rodents were then subjected to a task where they needed to work if they were going to earn sweet food.

As the amount of work required to earn the treats increased, only rats that had developed binge-eating patterns and gained weight on the high-fat diet displayed persistent motivation to earn the treats.

However, when those rats were treated with an orexin blocker, they no longer demonstrated this increased motivation.

The team also found that rats treated with the orexin blocker consumed less during binge eating episodes when they had unlimited access to a sweetened fat mixture for a period of 30 minutes.

Pharmacological treatments are currently limited for patients with eating disorders, so it is really exciting if a novel therapy could expand treatment options for obese individuals with binge eating disorder."

Dr Nicholas Bello, Senior Author

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