Brain region responsible for overeating found!

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

The UNC Memorial Hospital and UNC Children’s Hospital.

Next time you see someone stuffing their face with food, don’t judge them too harshly. It might seem like obesity – being too fat – is just caused by people being lazy, eating too much, and not exercising enough, but apparently the situation is a wee bit more complicated. After all, researchers from UNC School of Medicine believe that eating disorders are tied to the brain, not the belly!

It all started, of course, way back in the 1950s, when scientists electrically stimulated a mouse’s brain to cause it to eat, even if it wasn’t hungry. Wouldn’t that be annoying, someone poking your brain and making you crave some delicious cheese?

Anyhow, this new study decided to focus on one very particular part of the brain, called the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis – or BNST for short. Yah, BNST is definitely an easier word to swallow and mentally digest, no puns intended. Okay, they definitely were intended.

In order to get the BNST neurons (brain cells) excited and make the mouse eat, the scientists had to mix light-sensitive algae (ocean plants) with light cables attached to the brain. As soon as they shined beams on those BNST buggers, the mice began greedily chomping down on high-fat foods.

So, what’s this mean for humans? Basically, if the researchers can figure out how normal BNST behavior looks compared to overly starving BNST neurons, they can more easily find the problems in human brains that lead to overeating. This could result in better drugs to help people reduce their cravings!

Featured image courtesy of Josh Jennings and UNC School of Medicine. Image of NC Memorial Hospital and NC Children’s Hospital courtesy of Yeungb on Wikipedia.