A Drug to Override the Pleasure of Eating?

A potential pathway to reduce obesity.

Posted Aug 22, 2020

We eat to survive.  We also eat because food is tasty and pleasurable. The pleasurable nature of food makes it more likely that you will consume more food than you need to survive. A lot has been written about the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the rewarding value of food.  Unfortunately, simply blocking the action of dopamine is not an effective or safe diet suppressant because these drugs have so many very unpleasant side-effects, including a loss of the ability to experience any pleasure at all. This explains why no one abuses dopamine blocking drugs.

A recent study may have discovered a different approach that targets a different brain chemical called nesfatin-1.  If you unpack this odd name you get “stop-fat-in.”  The level of nesfatin in the brain changes according to whether or not you are eating.  Its level is low when you are fasting and returns to normal after a meal.  When the level of nesfatin is low the rewarding nature of food is enhanced.  Essentially, nesfatin rewards you for eating when you are hungry.  A simple job, but an important one.

Nesfatin is produced in brain regions that control the experience of reward rather than eating. A recent study, referenced below, discovered that nesfatin turns off the activity of dopamine neurons that are integral part of the brain’s natural reward center.  This study reported that nesfatin completely abolished the rewarding nature of food.  

The authors speculated that the normal role of nesfatin in the brain is to reduce energy intake by simply taking away the pleasure you ordinarily experience when eating tasty foods, such as sugar and fat.

Over the past decade a number of different brain chemicals have been discovered and their role in controlling feeding investigated. Nesfatin-1 is the first that appears able to take away the pleasure of eating.  This feature makes nesfatin-1 an appealing target for the development of a drug treatment for the most important factor in human health that underlies cancer, diabetes, heart disease, cognitive decline and death in the U.S., obesity.

References

Dore R, et al (2020) Nesfatin-1 decreases the motivational and rewarding value of food. Neuropsychopharmacology vol 45, p 1645