Dopamine Neurons Linked to Overeating

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At this time, binge eating affects about 10 percent of adults throughout the United States. Unfortunately the neurobiological root of the disease is not known. Researchers at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital discovered that certain neural circuits have the ability to inhibit binge eating behaviors in mice. Their report was published in the Biological Psychiatry Journal.

Dr. Yong Xu, associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor and senior author of the paper says human literature suggests that dysfunction of the serotonin system or dopamine system in the brain may be associated with developing binge-like eating behavior. However, mechanistically, there’s no direct evidence to show how this system affects behavior.

During the study, Xu and his colleagues identified a neural circuit where a group of serotonin neurons project to and activate dopamine neurons. They were able to show that by activating this circuit, binge-like eating behavior in mice was inhibited. On top of that, because there are 14 potential receptors that can mediate complex effects of serotonin in the body, the team identified a certain receptor that is important in eating behaviors. They were able to determine that serotonin 2C receptor (that is expressed by dopamine neurons) is crucial in the suppression of binge eating.

Xu has explained that an FDA approved drug (serotonin 2C agonist) is currently being used in the treatment of overweight and obese adults which could potentially be repurposed to be used in the suppression of binge eating in adults.