Binge Eating Mice Reveal Obesity Clues

Summary: A new study reports mice fed on diets that contained high fat foods and chocolate had altered feeding routines and food related behaviors.

Source: Center For Genomic Regulation.

Obesity is a growing issue in many countries, accelerated by easy access to calorie-dense foods that are pleasurable to eat (known as an ‘obesogenic environment’). But while it’s clear that eating too much leads to weight gain, little is known about the underlying behaviours that lead to overeating.

To mimic this obesogenic environment, the teams led by Mara Dierssen at CRG and Rafael Maldonado at UPF offered mice the option of a high-fat ‘cafeteria’ diet or a mixture of chopped-up commercial chocolate bars alongside their regular lab chow, before carrying out a detailed analysis of the animals’ activity and feeding behaviour. Their results have been published in two back-to-back articles in the journal Addiction Biology.

Working together with Cedric Notredame (CRG) and Elena Martín-García (UPF), the scientists found that as well as becoming obese, the mice started very early to show the signs of addiction-like behaviour and binge-eating in response to these enticing foods.

For example, when offered chocolate for just one hour per day, the animals will compulsively ‘binge’, consuming as much chocolate in one hour as they would over a whole day if it was continually available. They also showed inflexible behaviours, similar to those seen in addiction, choosing to wait for chocolate while ignoring freely available standard chow. Yet, at the same time, the chocolate did not seem to satiate hunger as well as regular food.

The team found that animals on the high fat or chocolate diet also changed their daily routines. They were more likely to eat during the daytime – mice are usually nocturnal and feed at night – and they ate shorter more frequent ‘snacks’ rather than larger, longer-spaced meals.

A major problem in treating obesity is the high rate of relapse to abnormal food-taking habits after maintaining an energy balanced diet. The scientists evaluated this relapse and found that extended access to hypercaloric diets impairs the control of food seeking behaviour and has deleterious effects on learning, motivation and behavioural flexibility.

“Our results revealed that long-term exposure to hypercaloric diets impair the ability to control eating behaviour leading to negative effects on the cognitive processes responsible for a rational control of food intake” says Maldonado, head of the Neuropharmacology Laboratory at UPF.

“Obesity is not just a metabolic disease – it is a behavioural issue. People who are overweight or obese are usually told to eat less and move more, but this is too simplistic.” explains Mara Dierssen, group leader of the Cellular and Systems Neurobiology laboratory at CRG. “We need to look at the whole process. By understanding the behaviours that lead to obesity and spotting the tell-tale signs early, we could find therapies or treatments that stop people from becoming overweight in the first place.”

The scientists are now expanding their research to larger numbers of animals and they are also planning a study to look at addiction-like behaviours in obese people to see how well their results translate to humans.

mars bar
Chocolate bar similar to the ones used in this study. image is in the public domain.

“It is very hard to lose weight successfully, and many people end up trapped in a cycle of yo-yo dieting,” Dierssen explains. “We need to focus on preventing obesity, and this study shows us that understanding and modifying behaviour could be the key”, as Maldonado states “these studies reveal the major behavioural and cognitive changes promoted by hypercaloric food intake, which could be crucial for the repeated weight gain and the difficulties to an appropriate diet control”.

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: This research was funded by the Foundation Jérome Lejeune, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Era Net Neuron, Departament d’Innovació, Universitats i Empresa, Generalitat de Catalunya.

Source: Laia Cendros – Center For Genomic Regulation
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Time‐course and dynamics of obesity‐related behavioral changes induced by energy‐dense foods in mice” by Jose Espinosa‐Carrasco, Aurelijus Burokas, Marta Fructuoso, Ionas Erb, Elena Martín‐García, Miriam Gutiérrez‐Martos, Cedric Notredame, Rafael Maldonado, and Mara Dierssen in Addiction Biology. Published April 2018,

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Center For Genomic Regulation “Binge Eating Mice Reveal Obesity Clues.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 9 April 2018.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Center For Genomic Regulation (2018, April 9). Binge Eating Mice Reveal Obesity Clues. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved April 9, 2018 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Center For Genomic Regulation “Binge Eating Mice Reveal Obesity Clues.” (accessed April 9, 2018).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


Time‐course and dynamics of obesity‐related behavioral changes induced by energy‐dense foods in mice

Obesity represents an important risk factor contributing to the global burden of disease. The current obesogenic environment with easy access to calorie‐dense foods is fueling this obesity epidemic. However, how these foods contribute to the progression of feeding behavior changes that lead to overeating is not well understood and needs systematic assessment. Using novel automated methods for the high‐throughput screening of behavior, we here examine mice meal pattern upon long‐term exposure to a free‐choice chocolate‐mixture diet and a high‐fat diet with face validity for a rapid development of obesity induced by unhealthy food regularly consumed in our societies. We identified rapid diet‐specific behavioral changes after exposure to those high‐caloric diets. Mice fed with high‐fat chow, showed long‐lasting meal pattern disturbances, which initiate with a stable loss of circadian feeding rhythmicity. Mice receiving a chocolate‐mixture showed qualitatively similar changes, though less marked, consisting in a transient disruption of the feeding behavior and the circadian feeding rhytmicity. Strikingly, compulsive‐like eating behavior is triggered immediately after exposure to both high‐fat food and chocolate‐mixture diet, well before any changes in body weight could be observed. We propose these changes as behavioral biomarkers of prodromal states of obesity that could allow early intervention.

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