Neuroscience 2009, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, is going on this week in Chicago. One of the big topics of the event is obesity and the brain, and some juicy research findings are being discussed focused on changes in brain chemistry linked to diet and weight.
Here are a few:
Pregnant mice fed a high-fat diet produced pups that were longer, weighed more, and had reduced insulin sensitivity — factors that indicate a predisposition toward obesity and diabetes. In addition, despite no further exposure to a high-fat diet, these pups passed on those same traits to their offspring.
Feeding high-fat food to pregnant mice can affect the brain development of their offspring, causing the pups to be more vulnerable to obesity and to engaging in addictive-like behaviors in adulthood.
Brain pleasure centers became progressively less responsive in rats fed a diet of high-fat, high-calorie food — changes previously seen in rats as they became addicted to cocaine or heroin. Furthermore, the animals became less likely to eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet even when the less-palatable healthy food was all that was available. The finding may have implications for humans, as the diets were similar to those in developed countries.
There is considerable evidence that body weight and fat mass are highly heritable traits and have strong genetic determinants. This offers the potential to identify specific brain-derived factors contributing to obesity, eating behavior, and responses to food.