Orexin neurons, a small group of cells in the hypothalamus, appear to be a promising target for medications for controlling binge-eating episodes in individuals with obesity, according to scientists at the Brain Health Institute at Rutgers University and the State University of New Jersey. These neurons have previously been shown to be important for addiction to drugs such as cocaine.
Dr. Gary Aston-Jones, director of the Brain Health Institute at Rutgers, and a senior author of the study, and his team, found that key symptoms of eating disorders, such as the sense of losing control, overlap with what is now known about the driven nature of drug addiction. The authors targeted the orexin system to better understand the change in food motivation caused by repeated episodes of binge eating. The study team reported their findings in July at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), an international group of scientific experts on eating behavior.
Using a rodent model, the researchers found that the orexin blocker reduced the amount of food consumed during the binge eating episodes, where rats were given unrestricted access to a sweetened fat mixture over a 30-minute period. The authors will continue their research by investigating how the size and number of orexin neurons in the brain might be altered following changes to dietary habits or weight or their combination.