Seeing Isn’t Believing: Biologists Show How to Shut Off Hunger ‘Alarm System’

December 5, 2017

With a new study, researchers have explained the biological mechanism behind hunger-driven highs and lows. While the mere sight or smell of food can temporarily turn off neurons responsible for the drive to eat, they showed that the neurons only stay off if the brain receives a signal from the stomach that calories have been ingested.   

“When these neurons are firing, they’re basically telling you, ‘You’d better go get food; you’re starving,’” says J. Nicholas Betley, assistant professor in the Department of Biology. “They’re a sensitive alarm system. And what this study conclusively demonstrated is that nutrients are the primary regulators of this alarm system.”

Furthermore, Betley’s team determined that giving mice a combination of hormones normally released during digestion significantly calmed the activity of these neurons, pointing to a potential therapeutic strategy for reducing overeating and obesity.

Betley collaborated with postdoctoral researchers and co-first authors Zhenwei Su and Amber L. Alhadeff on the study, which appears this week in the journal Cell Reports.

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