A new study looks at how feeding and the desire to eat is regulated by stress-related emotional responses.
Eating is a behaviour that is strongly influenced by stress-related emotional responses. Emotional states, in response to potential environmental dangers, compete with the desire to eat thus making eating a complex behaviour. Temporary changes to eating habits can be the body’s adaptive mechanism in response to emotional states of anxiety, stress, or fear. In chronic eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, patients have abnormalities in their emotional states – these include stress and anxiety.
Previous research has established that stress can increase or decrease a person’s motivation and desire to eat, however, the mechanisms in the human brain responsible for this influence remains unknown. In new research published in Nature Communications, a team of scientists from the United States explored the neural circuitry of the brain involved with stress-related emotional responses and its influence on eating behaviour by studying mice models.
The scientists focused their efforts on two parts of the brain: an eating-related region and an emotion-related region. They discovered the presence of a specific neural projection of communication from a key feeding region of the brain (containing glutamatergic PVH neurons) to another region of the brain associated with fear, aggression, and other emotional states important for establishing eating behaviours (containing LSv neurons). Inhibiting this neural communication caused a decrease in anxiety levels and increased eating. On the other hand, activating it caused an increase in anxiety and a decrease in the desire to eat that was significant enough to overcome the hunger-driven desire to eat. The scientists believe this neural communication plays an essential role in processing potential environmental risks that can influence a temporary stop in eating to avoid danger.
The researchers report that these findings are the first to demonstrate the role of this neural communication in stress-related emotional responses and eating behaviours. Since the nervous system of mice and humans share similarities, their results can provide valuable insight into how the human brain regulates emotions and hunger. They hope this study can help current efforts in developing treatments for serious eating disorders.
Written by Maggie Leung, PharmD.
Xu, Y., Lu, Y., Cassidy, R. M., Mangieri, L. R., Zhu, C., Huang, X., … Tong, Q. (2019). Identification of a neurocircuit underlying regulation of feeding by stress-related emotional responses. Nature Communications, 10(1). doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-11399-z
(2019, August 16). Study reveals how stress can curb the desire to eat in an animal model. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-08/uoth-srh081619.php