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Physiol Behav. 2013 Sep 10;121:10-8. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2013.03.024. Epub 2013 Apr 3.

Forebrain networks and the control of feeding by environmental learned cues.

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Department of Psychology, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, United States. Electronic address:


The motivation to eat is driven by a complex sum of physiological and non-physiological influences computed by the brain. Physiological signals that inform the brain about energy and nutrient needs are the primary drivers, but environmental signals unrelated to energy balance also control appetite and eating. The two components could act in concert to support the homeostatic regulation of food intake. Often, however, environmental influences rival physiological control and stimulate eating irrespective of satiety, or inhibit eating irrespective of hunger. If persistent, such maladaptive challenges to the physiological system could lead to dysregulated eating and ultimately to eating disorders. Nevertheless, the brain mechanisms underlying environmental contribution in the control of food intake are poorly understood. This paper provides an overview in recent advances in deciphering the critical brain systems using rodent models for environmental control by learned cues. These models use associative learning to compete with the physiological control, and in one preparation food cues stimulate a meal despite satiety, while in another preparation fear cues stop a meal despite hunger. Thus far, four forebrain regions have been identified as part of the essential cue induced feeding circuitry. These are telencephalic areas critical for associative learning, memory encoding, and decision making, the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex and the lateral hypothalamus, which functions to integrate feeding, reward, and motivation. This circuitry also engages two orexigenic peptides, ghrelin and orexin. A parallel amygdalar circuitry supports fear cue cessation of feeding. These findings illuminate the brain mechanisms underlying environmental control of food intake and might be also relevant to aspects of human appetite and maladaptive overeating and undereating.


Amygdala; Animal models; Anorexia; Anxiety; Conditioning; Eating disorders; Fear; Feeding; Ghrelin; Hippocampus; Hypothalamus; Learning; Memory; Motivation; Obesity; Orexin; Prefrontal cortex

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