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Advanced Imaging Technique Offers New Opportunities for Understanding Addiction and Eating Disorders

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Research identifies specific brain cells involved in feeding and reward

Using advanced bioimaging technology, researchers have identified separate groups of cells deep within the brains of mice that play key roles in hunger and eating, a discovery that offers new prospects for understanding the neurological underpinnings of anorexia, bulimia, and other self - destructive behaviors. The findings were presented November 16 at Neuroscience 2014, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

“The area of the brain we focused on — the lateral hypothalamus — is known to be involved in elements of eating, including hunger and consumption,” said Garret Stuber, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Until now, however, we didn’t know which particular cells within that area of the brain contribute to each of those behaviors.”

To identify those cells, Stuber and his colleagues introduced fluorescent proteins that can detect changes in neural activity into neurons in the lateral hypothalamus, the region of the brain critical to a range of functions, including feeding and controlling reward processes. They also implanted thin visual probes called microendoscopes directly above these cells. When coupled with very high - resolution fluorescence microscopes, these devices enable scientists to observe and record how cells function while animals are in action and engaged in complex behaviors.

The researchers found that different neurons within the lateral hypothalamus became activated when the mice consumed food compared to when the mice worked to gain access to food, although the processes were highly intertwined. This finding suggests that some of the symptoms of eat ing disorders may derive from the haywire activity of specific groups of cells within the lateral hypothalamus. Learning how to regulate the activity of those cells may offer promising avenues for treatment.

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Society for Neuroscience press release