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Keywords:

  • palatable food;
  • reward;
  • limbic system;
  • nucleus accumbens

Abstract

A neural network sensitive to leptin and other energy status signals stretching from the hypothalamus to the caudal medulla has been identified as the homeostatic control system for the regulation of food intake and energy balance. While this system is remarkably powerful in defending the lower limits of adiposity, it is weak in curbing appetite in a world of plenty. Another extensive neural system that processes appetitive and rewarding aspects of food intake is mainly interacting with the external world. This non-homeostatic system is constantly attacked by sophisticated signals from the environment, ultimately resulting in increased energy intake in many genetically predisposed individuals. Recent findings suggest a role for accumbens–hypothalamic pathways in the interaction between non-homeostatic and homeostatic factors that control food intake. Identification of the neural pathways that mediate this dominance of cortico-limbic processes over the homeostatic regulatory circuits in the hypothalamus and brainstem will be important for the development of behavioral strategies and pharmacological therapies in the fight against obesity.