The concept that a drop in blood sugar triggers a craving for food is best understood just before lunchtime.
But exactly how the process unfolds has proven difficult to explain, even on a full stomach.
Solving the puzzle would yield new insights in the fight against diabetes. Neuroscientists at the University of Southern California provide a partial answer in the July 4 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
Their study, highlighted by the journal on its news page, identifies a chemical that sends a low blood sugar message to a part of the brain that can do something about it.
The neurotransmitter norepinephrine travels from the hindbrain, which receives warnings of low glucose levels from the body, to the paraventricular hypothalamus, which authorizes the consumption of energy stores to replace the missing sugars.
The energy stores help for a while, but the end result is a feeling that the body is running on empty. Lunch, anyone"
While the study has few near-term clinical implications, except perhaps for diabetics with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) from insulin overdoses, it is of fundamental interest in the field.
Theres a huge interest in how the body senses glucose, said Alan Watts, director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at USC and a co-author of the study.
How that information is processed by the brain is really a hot current topic.
Knowing how neurons relay hypoglycemia warnings is critical to understanding the overall glucose sensing mechanism in the brain, added corresponding author Arshad Khan, a research assistant professor at USC.
Thats why Im interested in this system, because its very poorly understood, Khan said.
If we dont know how an automobiles fuel system works to begin with, then how can we expect to fix one when it is not burning fuel appropriately"