The same brain circuits that control obsessive-compulsive behavior also control eating habits and body weight, according to new research involving mice.
Scientists at the University of Iowa were able to cross-breed mice with a genetic mutation known to cause obesity and compulsive behavior with those genetically predisposed to engage in compulsive grooming. By manipulating the genes of the mice linked to both compulsive behaviors and overeating, the researchers were able to produce mice that were neither compulsive nor obese.
The findings, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may have implications for treating compulsive behavior, eating disorders, and obesity, the researchers concluded.
While obesity and obsessive-compulsive behavior may seem unrelated, lead researchers Michael Lutter, M.D., and Andrew Pieper, said the connection may be rooted in the evolutionary need to eat — or overeat — safe, clean food in times of food abundance, and to lessen this drive when food is scarce.
"Food safety has been an issue through the entire course of human evolution — refrigeration is a relatively recent invention," said Dr. Lutter, an assistant professor of psychiatry. "Obsessive behavior, or fear of contamination, may be an evolutionary protection against eating rotten food."
Dr. Pieper, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology, said the research team now plans to study how the finding might lead to new treatments for compulsive disorders and overeating.
"The next step will be to determine how these two pathways communicate with one another, in hopes of identifying new ways to develop drugs to treat either of these disorders," said Dr. Pieper.
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