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J Neurosci. 2013 Nov 6;33(45):17610-6. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3452-13.2013.

Food for thought: hormonal, experiential, and neural influences on feeding and obesity.

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  • 1Department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98109, Department of Pharmacology and Physiology and Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy & Psychiatry, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, Alberta T2N 4N1, Canada, Department Psychology, Columbia, New York, New York 10027, and Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Montana Sinai Ichan School of Medicine, New York, New York 10029.


Obesity is a growing public health problem. Although convenient, the notion that obesity is simply a problem of will power is increasingly antiquated. It is becoming clear that complex interactions of environment, neurohormonal systems, and transgenerational effects directly contribute to obesity. This review highlights data presented at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in San Diego, California in 2013; and although not meant as an exhaustive review of the area, this reivew will explore seemingly disparate areas of research that, when taken as a whole, illuminate the complex topography of the causes and consequences of obesity. We discuss how disruption of the biological clock, a consequence of modern society, can lead to changes in the brain and periphery that lead to obesity. We explore how obesity can actually cause pathological changes within the hypothalamus of the brain (a key regulator of food intake and metabolic homeostasis). How reward circuitry, particularly the ventral tegmental area, responds to insulin and how these effects modulate feeding and the salience of feeding cues are mechanistically described. We also investigate how nutrition may cross generational boundaries to affect the development and function of offspring, underscoring the long reach of metabolic effects. Finally, the role of the endocannabinoid system is emphasized as a critical node in the transduction of many of these effects. Together, this review should provide perspective into the neural causes and consequences of obesity, and hopefully lead to new areas of interdisciplinary research to tackle this important public health epidemic.

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