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Food, Drug Cravings Activate Similar Parts of Brain

Gastric stimulating device shows brain activity from 'emotional eating' and drug craving overlap

FRIDAY, Oct. 6 (HealthDay News) -- In obese patients, the sensation of satiety activates the hippocampus and other regions of the brain that have been previously shown to be involved in drug craving, according to a report published online Oct. 5 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., from Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., and colleagues used positron emission tomography to measure brain metabolic activity in seven obese subjects who had an implantable gastric stimulator for one to two years. When activated, the device causes stomach expansion and simulates fullness after eating. Brain activity was measured twice during both activation and deactivation of the stimulator.

The biggest difference was seen in the right hippocampus where metabolism was 18 percent higher during the activation phase of the experiment compared with the deactivation phase. According to questionnaire results, this pattern corresponded with lower scores on "emotional eating" rather than "uncontrolled eating," in which no effect was seen. Brain activity was also higher during the activation phase in the orbitofrontal cortex, right anterior cerebellum and the striatum.

"The brain regions activated by gastric stimulation overlap with those reported during craving responses in addicted subjects, supporting the commonalities in the neurocircuitry that underlie compulsive food intake and compulsive drug intake," the authors write.

One author was an employee of Transneuronix, Inc., the manufacturer of the implantable gastric stimulator, at the time of the experiment.

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