OCT 19, 2016 4:27 AM PDT

Appetite, Nicotine and the Brain

Hungry? It’s all in your head. Regulating appetite is a popular area of research within neuroscience. With the growing obesity epidemic, researchers are always looking to learn more about  how our brain controls appetite. Appetite is different from hunger. Hunger results when the blood sugar drops and the stomach is empty. Appetite is when you want food, or a certain food, regardless of when you last ate. A new study conducted by a team of researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and the University of Texas Health Science Center has uncovered new information on how the brain controls appetite and how nicotine addiction could be related.
 
In the brain it’s known that the hypothalamus has a lot to do with appetite as well as other functions such as temperature regulation, control of food and water intake, sexual behavior and reproduction and emotional responses. This is what most researchers have focused on when studying appetite. There’s something else involved however. At the cellular level in the brain, there are certain neurotransmitters and receptors that are an important part of the process.
 
Senior study author Dr. Benjamin Arenkiel, an associate professor of molecular and human genetics and of neuroscience at Baylor wanted to study the effects of acetylcholine, which plays a part in brain activity. He states, “How the brain controls appetite has been mostly focused on the hypothalamus.
In addition, acetylcholine , a modulator of brain activity, has been proposed to play a role in appetite control, but this role had not been explored until now.” 
 
Arenkiel and his team looked at the basal forebrain which has cells that produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.  The research was conducted on lab mice. To determine whether acetylcholine helps control the appetite in the animals, the researchers modified the mice genetically so that the cells in the forebrain which produced acetylcholine were eliminated. The mice without these cells had huge appetites, wanting food almost constantly. Other mice in the study were altered so that the production of acetylcholine in the brain was increased. These mice had almost no desire for food.  Dr. Arenkiel wrote, “They won’t starve themselves; but they will be almost anorexic. We think acetylcholine-producing cells in the basal forebrain are regulating the satiety cues in the brain.”
 
So how is this all related to nicotine?  In the brain, nicotine binds to the same receptors on cells that control appetite and are impacted by acetylcholine. That’s why smokers are sometimes fearful of gaining weight if they quit. Nicotine is known to reduce the appetite, and many tobacco users don’t want to give up that effect. The study authors believe that this connection might be useful in developing drugs to treat obesity. Currently, medications to help people quit smoking act on the brain in much the same way as acetylcholine. The video below features Dr. Arenkiel talking about the research and what can be learned from the study, check it out.

Sources: Baylor College of  Medicine, Wall Street Journal, Nature
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
DEC 18, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
DEC 18, 2019
Stroke Drug Enhances Stem Cell Therapies for Spinal Cord Injuries
Using rat models of spinal cord injuries, Yasuhiro Shiga, MD, PhD, thought treating them with stem cell therapy would point to nowhere but the nature of re...
JAN 06, 2020
Cardiology
JAN 06, 2020
Online Therapy Treats Depression in Heart Disease Patients
People suffering from cardiovascular disease (CVD) often suffer from depression too- something that can lead to a vicious cycle in which CVD can be negativ...
JAN 07, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JAN 07, 2020
Cancer-Like Metabolism Can Fuel Brain Growth
During evolution, the size of the human brain increased significantly compared to other primates....
JAN 09, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 09, 2020
Exploring the Genetic Link to Parental Neglect
Early life experiences impact how the brain is formed, and creates either a stable, solid foundation for later life, or a fragile architecture....
JAN 16, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
JAN 16, 2020
Fatty Acid Supplement Repairs Brain After Stroke in Mice
Researchers have found that supplements containing short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) may be able to help the brain recover from having a stroke. This comes a...
FEB 07, 2020
Neuroscience
FEB 07, 2020
Eating Fruits and Vegetables May Lower Alzheimer's Risk
New research has found that flavonols, a large class of compounds present in many fruits and vegetables, may be linked to a lower risk of developing Alzhei...
Loading Comments...