Surprising study results show that with a little stimulation, a previously unremarkable part of the brain actually causes a feeding frenzy in mice. The are linking the findings with a strange symptom that comes from a similar circumstance related to Parkinson’s Disease. When electrodes are implanted into human brains to ease their symptoms, they develop an incredible hunger.
Nerve cells in a poorly understood part of the brain have the power to prompt voracious eating in already well-fed mice.
Two to three seconds after blue light activated cells in the zona incerta, a patch of neurons just underneath the thalamus and above the hypothalamus, mice dropped everything and began shoveling food into their mouths. This dramatic response, described May 26 in Science, suggests a role in eating behavior for a part of the brain that hasn’t received much scrutiny.
Scientists have previously proposed a range of jobs for the zona incerta, linking it to attention, movement and even posture. The new study suggests another job — controlling eating behavior, perhaps even in humans. “Being able to include the zona incerta in models of feeding is going to help us understand it better,” says study coauthor Anthony van den Pol, a neuroscientist at Yale University.
The new results may also help explain why a small number of Parkinson’s disease patients develop binge-eating behavior when electrodes are implanted in their brains to ease their symptoms. Those electrodes may be stimulating zona incerta nerve cells, van den Pol suspects.
During intermittent stimulation of some zona incerta…
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