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Obes Rev. 2009 Nov;10 Suppl 2:69-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2009.00668.x.

A biobehavioural model of the night eating syndrome.

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School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Center for Weight and Eating Disorders, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-3309, USA.


This paper will propose a biobehavioral mechanism for the Night Eating Syndrome (NES), a disorder characterized by a delayed circadian rhythm of food intake and neuroendocrine function. Food intake consists of at least 25% of daily caloric intake after the evening meal and/or at least two nighttime awakenings with ingestions per week. This will be explored by reviewing neuroimaging of brain serotonin transporters (SERT) and treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SERT binding is elevated in the midbrain of night eaters, causing dysregulation of the circadian rhythm of both food intake and neuroendocrine function. The administration of SSRIs blocks the reuptake of serotonin and restores the circadian rhythm of both food intake and neuroendocrine function. This hypothesis implies that reduction of SERT activity should increase postsynaptic serotonin transmission and relieve NES. This is precisely the effect of SSRIs. NES is a function of elevated SERT, and blocking of SERT with an SSRI resolves NES. This model of NES attests to the validity of the diagnosis of NES and the criteria by which it is identified, and it provides an explanation of the mechanism.

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