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EU Project

EU project to investigate neurology and eating behaviour

Study will also look at addiction and stress
Professor Suzanne Dickson

The NEUROFAST (Integrated Neurobiology of Food Intake, Addiction and Stress) project, led by the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, is to investigate brain biology in the context of eating behaviour, addiction and stress.

The focus will also be on the socio-psychological analysis of determinants of food addiction and substance abuse, as well as risk factors such as stress that drive addictive behaviour. There are also interrelationships which need to be addressed, such as the links to current eating-disorder research, and research on obesity, stress and addiction.

“We decided to work on this because increasing evidence linked excessive overeating to brain pathways involved in reward, including pathways known to be targets for addictive drugs,” said Professor Suzanne Dickson specialises in physiology and neuroendocrinology at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, which is part of the Sahlgrenska Academy. “Overeating can be influenced by genetic predisposition traits, psychiatric diseases, and cues from the environment that trigger expectation of a food reward. Other factors include socio-economic pressures and a stressful lifestyle, including stress in the workplace or home.”

Experiments will include a combination of controlled laboratory studies, characterisation of patient groups, and the examination of real-world scenarios based on epidemiological community samples, which they hope will help develop policy.

Investigations so far include studying an area of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Its role is complex and it is widely implicated in the drug and natural reward circuitry of the brain. It is an important area in studying cognition, motivation, drug addiction, intense emotions relating to love, and several psychiatric disorders.

Scientists working on the NEUROFAST project have a special interest in looking at the VTA and its connection with food-searching behaviours. Referring to the achievements of NEUROFAST to date.

'We have recently learned from the field of bariatric surgery that it is possible to change reward behaviour towards food,” she added. “This involves unknown mechanisms that are likely linked to the brain's food-reward system. We are focusing specifically on a hormone called ghrelin whose secretion is altered after bariatric surgery. We hope to reveal new information that is of clinical and therapeutic relevance for future drug strategies for this disease area.'

They have also discovered how basic brain mechanisms control food reward and the role played by gut hormones in regulating these, especially for calorie dense foods.

The project has gathered together the clinical and experimental expertise of 13 partners from across seven European countries and has received €6 million in funding.

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