Researchers from Turku Pet Center in Finland have established that there is a connection between the operation of the opioid system in our brain and the feeling of hunger caused by external stimuli. That is why some of us tax more at the sight of delicacies, and as a result – on the development of obesity.
The authors reported their study results in the journal “Translational Psychiatry” (http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41398-021-01559-5).
Their animal experiment showed that both the opioid and endocannabinoid systems are important components in the mechanism of regulating eating behavior and mediating food acquisition, and changes in their signaling are associated with, for example, obesity. “In general, both internal body cues, such as fluctuations in blood sugar levels, and external stimuli, such as food advertisements, can stimulate appetite in humans,” the authors explain.
They add that eating behavior varies greatly from person to person, but the neurobiological basis for these differences is still poorly understood. It is known that opioid and cannabinoid receptors in the brain regulate energy balance through multiple neural pathways, influencing food intake and activating the brain’s reward system.
Obesity and eating disorders are also known to be associated with alterations in opioid and endocannabinoid signaling. Therefore, the Finnish researchers concluded that changes in the functions of both systems could underlie different eating behaviour.
After conducting a series of experiments, scientists discovered that the action of the opioid system in particular is closely related to food intake, caused by external stimuli.
“The fewer opioid binding sites there are in the brain, the greater the tendency to eat food in response to external stimuli, such as seeing a delicious meal,” said Tatu Kantunen, lead author of the study. “Furthermore, the number of endocannabinoid binding sites has been shown to correlate with several different types of eating behavior.”
According to the authors, the results obtained suggest that the opioid system may be a potential target for anti-obesity drugs in humans.
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