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Scientists at the University of Arizona (UA) have found a series of neurons, or nerve cells, that can turn appetite on and off.
The UA Department of Neuroscience scientists explained that these neurons work with several brain regions to activate or suppress appetite. According to the scientists, these regions are tucked away in the amygdala, the brain’s center of emotions.
The scientists made these discoveries while determining what is at the bottom of extreme appetite loss in patients with serious illnesses. This appetite loss is caused by inflammation inside the body and can affect the success of treatments.
To determine whether or not the neurons affect eating behavior, the scientists conducted several experiments using mouse models with extreme appetite loss. First, they suppressed the neurons in the amygdala, and this made the mice hungry. Afterward, they activated the same neurons, which resulted in a decreased appetite.
Although these neurons were found in mice, the scientists want to prove that the same neurons exist in the human brain. They believe that medical professionals could suppress neurons in the brains of patients with appetite loss to help these people eat more. Similarly, lead scientist Haijiang Cai explained that the activation of these neurons could also work for patients suffering from obesity and make them eat less.
Cai pointed out that eating is a complex process. Humans usually feel hungry when their bodies need food or they see a delectable meal. When humans are fed, they chew and swallow the food until they feel a sense of satisfaction. The scientists are fascinated by this process as it suggests communication among different brain regions. Because of this, the scientists plan to further look into how the process of eating works.