Scientists uncover possible neural link between early life trauma and binge-eating disorder: Discovery may lead to therapeutic targets to treat binge eating, obesity
Nearly 3 percent of Americans suffer from binge-eating disorder at some point their lifetimes, and of them, more than eight in 10 survived childhood abuse, neglect, or other trauma.
Now, a Virginia Tech scientist has identified how early life trauma may change the brain to increase the risk of binge eating later in life.
Research led by principal investigator Sora Shin, an assistant professor with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, revealed how a pathway in the brain that typically provides signals to stop eating may be altered by early life trauma.
The discovery, obtained from studies in mice, in Nature Neuroscience on Dec. 12 adds new perspective to behaviors such as binge eating and obesity.
“We wanted to know the mechanism underlying how early life trauma induces these eating disorders,” said Shin, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “What we found is a specific brain circuit that is vulnerable to stress, causing it to become dysfunctional.”
“This finding speaks to a set of broader health questions, which is how life’s health course is set based on certain early experiences,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and Virginia Tech’s vice president for Health Sciences and Technology. “We are increasingly aware that early experiences and exposures ranging from those that occur even pre-conception in future parents through those that the fetus experiences in utero and to those that the child experiences throughout postnatal life can have dramatic impact on our health course throughout life. Dr. Shin’s latest discovery in this one particular case shines an important new mechanistic light on this process. Like all innovative research, the study also raises additional important questions such as whether and how these effects can be changed. Dr. Shin’s research can empower such lines of inquiry since a neural substrate and mechanism have been identified.”
Stress symptoms can affect our body, thoughts and feelings, and behavior. In Shin’s finding, the stress on mice who were separated from their litter mates may trigger life-long eating behavior changes.
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