BIDMC Researchers May Have Found a New Way to Prevent Hunger

By altering a specific circuit in the brain.

Eating less without feeling hungry is every dieter’s dream. Now, new research from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) could make it a reality.

BIDMC researchers, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, have identified a circuit in the brain, called MC4R, that controlled feelings of fullness and, when manipulated, removed feelings of hunger in mice. An announcement from BIDMC quotes the study’s co-senior author Bradford Lowell:

“Our results show that the artificial activation of this particular brain circuit is pleasurable and can reduce feeding in mice, essentially resulting in the same outcome as dieting but without the chronic feeling of hunger.”

That means manipulating the MC4R circuit could not only prevent hunger pangs, but cause the same feelings of pleasure that follow a satisfying meal. To test that theory, the scientists constructed a two-room structure made up of one empty room and one room containing a blue light laser that triggered the MC4R circuit in genetically modified mice. The non-modified mice had no preference between the two rooms; the mice altered for MC4R expression, however, spent significantly more time in the blue light room, suggesting pleasant feelings coming from the circuit activation.

So what does this mean for humans? The researchers say that the same effect could take place in people, making the MC4R circuit a promising target for diet drugs or other weight loss treatments. In the report, Lowell says targeting these cells could reduce food consumption:

“Turning on the PVH-MC4R satiety neurons had the same effect as dieting but because it directly reduced hunger drive it did not cause the gnawing feelings of discomfort that often come with dieting,” says Lowell. “Our findings suggest that the therapeutic targeting of these cells may reduce both food consumption and the aversive sensations of hunger – and therefore may be an effective treatment for obesity.”