‘Flip switch’ cre­ates in­stant binge eaters

Mouse brains might point the way to un­rav­el­ling the cause of eat­ing dis­or­ders. AN­DREW MASTER­SON re­ports.

Cosmos - - Digest -

Binge-eat­ing might be prompted by a neu­ro­log­i­cal “flip switch”, sug­gests new re­search based on ex­per­i­ments that prompted mice to eat more than a third of their daily food in­take in just 10 min­utes.

The mice pig-out was caused by stim­u­lat­ing a lit­tle-stud­ied area of the brain for just a few sec­onds.

Xiaob­ing Zhang and An­thony van den Pol, of the Yale School of Medicine in Con­necti­cut, dis­cov­ered the ef­fect while re­search­ing the zona in­certa (ZI), an elon­gated sec­tion of grey mat­ter lo­cated in the brain’s sub­tha­la­mus re­gion.

Stim­u­lat­ing the ZI for just a few sec­onds pro­duced im­me­di­ate bingeeat­ing be­hav­iour in the ro­dents. Re­peated stim­u­la­tion – for five min­utes ev­ery three hours over two weeks – led to greatly in­creased food in­take and weight gain.

Fur­ther ex­per­i­ments re­vealed the ZI cells also be­came stim­u­lated when food was with­held from the mice, catalysing the re­lease of ghre­lin, called the “hunger hor­mone” and known to stim­u­late ap­petite.

When the pe­ri­ods of ar­ti­fi­cial stim­u­la­tion came to an end, the re­searchers also noted that food in­take rapidly dropped to a level be­low that of the un­treated mice used as con­trols. The study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence, might pro­vide in­sight into binge-

“STIM­U­LAT­ING THE ZI FOR JUST A COU­PLE OF SEC­ONDS PRO­DUCED IM­ME­DI­ATE BINGE- EAT­ING BE­HAV­IOUR IN THE RO­DENTS.”

eat­ing in hu­mans, the me­chan­ics of which re­mains lit­tle un­der­stood.

Zhang and van der Pol sug­gest that ZI ac­ti­va­tion might play a role. They note that when some types of move­ment dis­or­der are treated us­ing deep brain stim­u­la­tion of the sub­tha­la­mus – and hence also the ZI – binge-eat­ing be­hav­iour is of­ten an un­wel­come side-ef­fect.

CREDIT: DR. ALAN JAMIESON / NEW­CAS­TLE UNIVER­SITY

You are what you eat: which is bad news even for the ul­tra- deep­wa­ter am­phi­pod Hiron­del­lea gi­gas liv­ing in the Mar­i­ana Trench.

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