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Exposure to food increases brain metabolism

UPTON, NY -- Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have produced new evidence that brain circuits involved in drug addiction are also activated by the desire for food. The mere display of food -- smelling and tasting favorite foods without actually eating them -- causes increases in metabolism throughout the brain. Increases of metabolism in the right orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region that controls drive and pleasure, also correlate strongly with self-reports of desire for food and hunger.

"These results could explain the deleterious effects of constant exposure to food stimuli, such as advertising, candy machines, food channels, and food displays in stores," says Brookhaven physician Gene-Jack Wang, the study's lead author. "The high sensitivity of this brain region to food stimuli, coupled with the huge number and variety of these stimuli in the environment, likely contributes to the epidemic of obesity in this country." The study appears in the April 2004 issue of NeuroImage.

Brookhaven scientists have conducted previous research showing that the right orbitofrontal cortex is involved in compulsive behaviors characteristic of addictive states, and that this brain region is activated when addicted individuals crave drugs such as cocaine (http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/1999/bnlpr010199.html).

They have also shown that food stimulation, as done in this study, increases levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in pleasure and reward, in the brain's dorsal striatum (http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/2002/bnlpr052002.htm).

Additionally, to better understand the relationship of the dopamine system to obesity, they looked at the brain circuits of obese individuals and found that, like drug addicts, these individuals had fewer dopamine receptors th
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Contact: Dennis Tartaglia
dennist@mbooth.com
212-481-7000
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
19-Apr-2004


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