Binge-Eating Neurons Identified

Inducing activity in the zona incerta region of the brain prompts mice to gorge themselves.

Jef Akst
May 26, 2017

ANTHONY VAN DEN POL Using optogenetics to stimulate a group of neurons below thalamus and above the hypothalamus, Yale University neuroscientists Anthony van den Pol and Xiaobing Zhang were able to immediately trigger binge eating in mice. Within seconds of the stimulation, the rodents began shoveling food into their mouths, and after only 10 minutes, they had 35 percent of a normal day’s rations, according to the results published today (May 26) in Science.

“The eating effect evoked by activating these cells is probably real and interesting,” László Acsády, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Experimental Medicine in Budapest who was not involved in the work, told Science News. But he cautions that this region of the brain, known as the zona incerta, is “little-studied” and “ill-defined,” meaning there are many unanswered questions as to how it regulates appetite.  

But the first step, notes van den Pol,...