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Diet-induced obesity: is it an addiction?

Can eating junk food compulsively be called an addiction? What brain changes occur when we consume too much fat and sugar?  

Aims

We aim to:

  • Investigate the presence of addiction-like behaviour in rats prone to diet-induced obesity
  • Conduct a preclinical trial of the glutamate homeostasis restoring drug N-acetylcysteine to reverse synaptic impairments in obesity prone rats to ameliorate the addiction-like behaviour 

Difficulty in managing food intake, especially highly palatable food, can result in obesity and substantial associated health liabilities. A cardinal feature of the pathological over-eating often underlying obesity is that although the individual can describe the negative consequences of their behaviour, they can have great difficulty intervening and changing their behaviour.

Thus, difficulty in reducing food consumption and actual behaviour suggests the presence of impairments in how information from the frontal cortex is integrating with basal ganglia circuitry to direct behaviour. We have found that rats prone to diet-induced obesity display some of the features of addiction-like behaviour towards palatable food.

This provides important preliminary evidence to support our central hypothesis that the pathological over-eating commonly observed in diet-induced obesity shares common features with the compulsive drug-taking observed in drug addiction.

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