The researchers demonstrated in mice that direct stimulation of fewer than two dozen nerve cells, or neurons, linked to social interaction was enough to suppress the animals' drive to feed themselves -- a finding with potential clinical significance for understanding and treating eating disorders such as anorexia.
The researchers made these findings by developing a technique for teasing apart separate but closely intertwined sets of neurons in the brain.
Paper - Findings - Method - Jan - Nature
A paper detailing the findings and the method used to obtain them will be published online Jan. 16 in Nature. The senior author is Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, the D.H. Chen Professor and professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Lead authorship is shared by postdoctoral scholars Joshua Jennings, PhD, and Christina Kim, PhD, along with staff scientist James Marshel, PhD.
"We know social situations can inhibit the urge to eat," Deisseroth said. "One example is the behavior of people at different levels of dominance in a social hierarchy. You're not going to dive into that plate of ribs when you're dining in the presence of royalty."
Anorexia - Example - People - Report - Driver
Anorexia is another example. "People with anorexia report that a powerful driver, at the disorder's onset, was feedback from others indicating they'd be rewarded for restricting their food intake," said Deisseroth.
Virtually nothing is known about the neural underpinnings of this inhibition, he said. "We sought to understand, at the level of individual neurons, how these potentially competing drives may negotiate with each other, and how the brain circuits associated with feeding versus social behavior may interact."
Deisseroth - Group - Part - Brain - Cortex
Deisseroth's group focused on a part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex, a sheet of cells that, in both mice and humans, lies on the brain's outer surface toward the front of the organ. This brain region, which is similar in the two...
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