Dopamine and compulsive eating behavior — ScienceDaily
Many people have felt a sudden, uncontrollable urge to eat a certain food. These cravings, called food cravings, are very common, especially during pregnancy. During this time, the mother’s body undergoes a series of physiological and behavioral changes to create a favorable environment for the development of the embryo. However, frequent consumption of tasty, high-calorie foods – derived from food cravings – contributes to weight gain and obesity during pregnancy, which can have negative health effects for the baby.
“There are many myths and popular beliefs regarding these cravings, although the neural mechanisms that cause them are not widely known,” notes March Claret, senior lecturer in the University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. of Barcelona and responsible for the neural control IDIBAPS. from the Metabolism group. Claret leads, with researcher Roberta Haddad-Tóvolli, a study published in the journal Natural metabolism which provides new evidence on alterations in neural activity that cause food cravings in an animal model.
Dopamine and compulsive eating behavior
According to the results, during pregnancy, the brains of female mice undergo changes in the functional connections of brain reward circuits, as well as taste and sensorimotor centers. Moreover, just like pregnant women, female mice are more sensitive to sugary foods and develop binge eating behaviors towards high-calorie foods. “The alteration of these structures made us explore the mesolimbic pathway, one of the signaling pathways of dopaminergic neurons. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter in motivational behaviors,” notes Claret, a member of the Department of Medicine at the UB and the Diabetes and Associated Center for Networked Biomedical Research in Metabolic Diseases (CIBERDEM).
The team observed that levels of dopamine – and the activity of its receptor, D2R – increased in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain involved in the reward circuitry. “This finding suggests that pregnancy induces a complete reorganization of mesolimbic neural circuits through D2R neurons,” Haddad-Tóvolli notes. “These neuronal cells — and their alteration — are believed to be responsible for food cravings, since food anxiety, typical during pregnancy, disappeared after blocking their activity.”
The team led by Claret and Haddad-Tóvolli showed that persistent cravings have consequences for offspring. They affect metabolism and the development of neural circuits that regulate food intake, leading to weight gain, anxiety and eating disorders. “These results are shocking, as many studies focus on analyzing how lifelong habits of the mother – such as obesity, malnutrition or chronic stress – affect the baby’s health. However, this study indicates that short but recurrent behaviors, such as food cravings, are sufficient to increase psychological and metabolic vulnerability in offspring,” Claret concludes.
The findings of the study could help improve nutritional recommendations for pregnant women to ensure good prenatal nutrition and prevent disease development. Study participants included Guadalupe Soria and Emma Muñoz-Moreno (IDIBAPS), Analía Bortolozzi (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS) and Emmanuel Valjent (INSERM and University of Montpellier).
This project received funding from the European Research Council (ERC), awarded to Marc Claret, and a grant from the Marie Sk?odowska-Curie Actions program, awarded to researcher Roberta Haddad-Tóvolli.