Scientists are studying binge behavior and the brain to find out what triggers excessive eating or drug-seeking behavior. Upon further analysis, researchers discovered when certain brain cells are switched off, rats that once responded with excitement and speed to cues for sugar responded with less motivation and urgency.The finding may lead to new ways to help individuals reduce addictive behavior.
Reported findings in the journal Neuron suggest external cues can trigger a relapse or binge eating. Findings from the study demonstrate where in the brain the connection between environmental stimuli and food or drug seeking is happening. The ventral pallidum (VP) is a collection of brain cell clusters located deep beneath the cerebral cortex or outer layer of the brain referred to as ‘gray matter.’ Very little is known about its role in triggering behavior in response to cues. The research team trained rats to learn if a lever was pushed when a sound was heard, a reward was delivered in the form of a sugary water drink. Researchers got trained rats to respond to triggers when neural activity was monitored.
More neurons than expected were noticed by the team and the neurons became vigorously active. The rats heard cues following training and responded appropriately. Researchers noted the stronger the neural activity, the more rapidly the rats responded and sought the reward. In a different part of the study, the head researcher and colleagues used optogenetics to temporarily turn off the VP neurons when the rats were exposed to the sound cues. Optogenetics is a method where animals like rats and mice are genetically engineered to have brain cells selectively switched on or off use light pulses.When the trained rats’ VP neurons off, researchers discovered the rats were less likely to pull levers to get sugar water. When rats pulled the levers, it was done more more slowly.
Putting it Together
Researchers are still piecing together the results of the findings. Some suggestions have been made that treatments to help people moderate addictive behavior may come from the research. By calming the brain’s reaction to relevant triggers, it may be possible to help alter how the brain perceives them and, thus, drug and food seeking behaviors which are detrimental and possibly addictive for people who struggle with issues around food and drugs. The more that is known about what triggers people, especially in the brain, the more ways researchers can piece together opportunities for treatment and support mechanisms for individuals who need help with binge behavior and other addiction disorders.
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