Too much cheese

When I was browsing journals this month my eyes were immediately diverted to the October issue of Nature Neuroscience. I’m normally drawn into some complex image and try to work out what it is, but this was pretty obvious… a mouse eating cheese! My only puzzlement was, why is this in Nature Neuroscience?

So a quick look into the issue revealed a multitude of papers all dedicated to the neural control of feeding. Obesity is a huge problem in the modern world and its dramatic increase over the past few years weighs on the pressure and urgency of research into obesity.

Here are some alarming obesity facts – in 2005 3/50 states in US had a obesity rate above 30%, in 2011 this had increased to 12/50 states. So what research has been done over the last 7 years to combat the fight against obesity? There has been great progress in research into how our brain regulates our feeding behaviour.

Here is a summary of the key research advances:

– The interactions between hormones from the gastrointestinal system (such as leptin, ghrelin, insulin) and the brain are starting to be unravelled and understood.
– The long-term effects of hormones and how our brain adapts to signals have been shown to lead to rearrangement of neuronal circuitry in the brain.
– Using mouse genetics, the neurotransmitters and hormones that regulate feeding behaviour have been identified.
– A possible link between obesity and addiction has been proposed with evidence suggesting that food intake activates a reward circuitry as seen in drug addiction.

These research findings are yet to be translated into a treatment for obesity. Yet the amount of research being undertaken and the progress being made is encouraging. Hopefully the next time Nature Neuroscience reviews this field we will see some exciting therapies starting to emerge to combat obesity.