“There’s underlying physiology in your brain that is regulating your capacity to say no to (impulsive eating),” explains Emily Noble, lead author on the new study. “In experimental models, you can activate that circuitry and get a specific behavioral response. We found that when we activate the cells in the brain that produce MCH, animals become more impulsive in their behavior around food.” Further tests revealed modulating this particular MCH pathway did not play a role in taste, appetite or motivation. What this means is the brain circuit being studied primarily seems to affect the animal’s inhibitory control. “Activating this specific pathway of MCH neurons increased impulsive behavior without affecting normal eating for caloric need or motivation to consume delicious food,” says Noble.
“Understanding that this circuit, which selectively affects food impulsivity, exists opens the door to the possibility that one day we might be able to develop therapeutics for overeating that help people stick to a diet without reducing normal appetite or making delicious foods less delicious.”
While the study mostly focused on how the neural pathway influences food intake, the researchers do note the discovery opens up novel research avenues for other kinds of neuropsychological disorders linked to impulse control. The hypothesis is that if this MCH neural pathway can be pharmacologically modulated then it could lead not only to new treatments for obesity and overeating, but also other conditions relating to impulsive behaviors such as addiction or gambling.