Story at a glance
- Various parts of our brain affect different behaviors.
- Scientists tested a particular area of the cerebellum in mice to see how it affects eating.
- Activation of specific neurons will limit how much the mice eat.
A good meal is amazing. It’s not only necessary for survival, but satisfying hunger can feel good. Turns out, neuroscientists are studying which areas of the brain are related to those good feelings, and they are especially interested in when those signals aren’t quite working the way they are supposed to.
In a genetic disorder called Prader Willi syndrome, people eat too much and have an insatiable appetite. Because they never feel full, this can lead to health problems like obesity. In a new study on mice published in the journal Nature, researchers found a part of the brain's cerebellum that seems to be connected to feeling sated.
The cerebellum is a part of the brain that’s in charge of motor control and learning. In the study, the team found the specific neurons, called aDCN neurons, in the mice's cerebellum that turned on when they were eating. When the researchers turned the aDCN neurons on in some mice, the animals would limit how much they ate compared to the mice that didn’t have the neurons turned on. They would eat just as often, but each meal would be 50 to 75 percent smaller.
Conversely, when the researchers kept the neurons from activating, the mice ate more than usual. They hypothesize that there could be a relationship to dopamine levels where too much or too little affects their eating behavior. The aDCN-activated mice had lower dopamine release.
“We think this is why the animal stops eating,” said one of the lead researchers, J. Nicholas Betley in a press release. “It's no longer rewarding enough to continue.”
These results could have implications for potential treatments for overeating, including Prader Willi syndrome.
“This was mind-blowing,” Betley said. “In fact, it was so mind-blowing I thought it had to be wrong.”
The team plans to continue exploring the regulatory pathways for controlling hunger in the brain.
“It's amazing that you can still find areas of the brain that are important for basic survival behaviors that we had never before implicated,” Betley said. “And these brain regions are important in robust ways.”
READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA