Brain Circuit for Nausea-Induced Appetite Loss Discovered

Summary: Researchers identified a brain circuit that curbs eating behavior in mice when they feel nauseous. The study, focusing on the amygdala, discovered specific nerve cells activated by nausea that suppress appetite, distinct from those activated by satiety.

These findings demonstrate how different brain circuits are engaged depending on the cause of appetite loss, such as nausea versus fullness. This insight could lead to a better understanding and treatment of conditions related to dysregulated eating behaviors in humans.

Key Facts:

  1. The identified nerve cells in the amygdala are specifically activated by nausea, not by satiety, and directly suppress appetite in mice.
  2. Activation of these cells sends inhibitory signals to brain regions like the parabrachial nucleus, which integrates internal state information.
  3. This research delineates separate brain circuits for appetite loss due to nausea and satiety, highlighting the brain’s complex role in regulating eating behavior.

Source: Max Planck Institute

Satiety, nausea or anxiety can all lead to a loss of appetite. Delaying eating can be a healthy move by the body to prevent further damage and to gain time for regenerating. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence now identified the circuit in the brain that prevents mice from eating when they feel nauseous.

The decisive role is played by special nerve cells in the amygdala – a brain region involved when emotions run high. The cells are activated during nausea and elicit appetite-suppressing signals.

This shows a woman and a salad.
So how does the brain prevent us from eating when we feel sick? Credit: Neuroscience News

The findings highlight the complex regulation of eating behavior, as the loss of appetite during nausea is controlled by different circuits than during satiety.

An upcoming exam, a boat trip on the high seas or the next germ at the day-care center all have one thing in common: they can really upset our stomach. Stress, motion sickness or certain infections can make us feel sick. It seems logical that we don’t eat in these circumstances and wait for the situation to improve.

As a result, nausea and decreased appetite usually go hand in hand. Or have you ever felt sick and really wanted to eat at the same time?

What seems logical is a healthy defense mechanism of our body – but it has to be activated first. Clearly, the brain plays a central role in this: it is the control center for the body’s energy balance and regulates eating behavior.

So how does the brain prevent us from eating when we feel sick?

Researchers in Rüdiger Klein’s department have gained new insights into this topic in mice. They focused on the amygdala, a brain region that regulates emotions, also those related to eating.

It contains neurons that promote eating and those that inhibit appetite. For example, a known inhibitory cell type is activated when we are full, but how this works in the case of nausea is not well understood.

Nausea activates nerve cells

Wenyu Ding, first author of the new study, now discovered another cell group in the amygdala that has a negative influence on appetite. Unlike the previously known cell type, these cells are not activated by satiety, but when feeling nauseous.

When the researchers artificially switched on the cells, even hungry mice stopped eating. Conversely, switching the cells off resulted in the mice eating, even when feeling sick.

To better understand how this cell type exerts its appetite-suppressing function, the researchers analyzed the underlying circuit: where do the cells get their information from and to which cells and brain areas do they send their projections?

The following picture emerged: When a mouse feels sick, this information reaches the brain and eventually the amygdala.

There, the new cell type is activated and sends its inhibitory signals to distant brain regions, including the so-called parabrachial nucleus, a brain stem region that receives a lot of information about the internal state of the body.

This stands in contrast to the circuit of the previously known cell type, which mainly interacts with neighboring cells within the amygdala. It becomes clear that the loss of appetite during satiety is not the same as the loss of appetite during nausea.

In the brain, different cells and circuits are responsible for this – a complicated matter and perhaps a small consolation the next time we feel sick.

Most importantly, the new study provides important insights into how the brain and the amygdala in particular regulate eating behavior. This is the prerequisite for a better understanding of the many diseases associated with dysregulated eating behavior in humans.

About this appetite and neuroscience research news

Author: Christina Bielmeier
Source: Max Planck Institute
Contact: Christina Bielmeier – Max Planck Institute
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Nausea-induced suppression of feeding is mediated by central amygdala Dlk1-expressing neurons” by Rüdiger Klein et al. Cell Reports


Nausea-induced suppression of feeding is mediated by central amygdala Dlk1-expressing neurons


  • CeADlk1 neurons are activated by nausea, visceral malaise, and bitter liquid, but not satiety
  • CeADlk1 neurons suppress feeding under conditions of nausea
  • Artificial activation of CeADlk1 neurons inhibits ongoing consummatory behavior
  • CeADlk1 neuronal projections to the PBN mediate feeding suppression


The motivation to eat is suppressed by satiety and aversive stimuli such as nausea. The neural circuit mechanisms of appetite suppression by nausea are not well understood. Pkcδ neurons in the lateral subdivision of the central amygdala (CeA) suppress feeding in response to satiety signals and nausea.

Here, we characterized neurons enriched in the medial subdivision (CeM) of the CeA marked by expression of Dlk1. CeADlk1 neurons are activated by nausea, but not satiety, and specifically suppress feeding induced by nausea.

Artificial activation of CeADlk1 neurons suppresses drinking and social interactions, suggesting a broader function in attenuating motivational behavior. CeADlk1 neurons form projections to many brain regions and exert their anorexigenic activity by inhibition of neurons of the parabrachial nucleus. CeADlk1 neurons are inhibited by appetitive CeA neurons, but also receive long-range monosynaptic inputs from multiple brain regions.

Our results illustrate a CeA circuit that regulates nausea-induced feeding suppression.

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