Brain regulation of food intake and appetite: molecules and networks


  • This paper builds partly on presentations made at a Nobel Conference on ‘Brain Control of Feeding Behaviour’ organized at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, in September 9–11, 2004.

Christian Broberger MD, PhD, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden.
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In the clinic, obesity and anorexia constitute prevalent problems whose manifestations are encountered in virtually every field of medicine. However, as the command centre for regulating food intake and energy metabolism is located in the brain, the basic neuroscientist sees in the same disorders malfunctions of a model network for how integration of diverse sensory inputs leads to a coordinated behavioural, endocrine and autonomic response. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive; rather, much can be gained by combining both perspectives to understand the pathophysiology of over- and underweight. The present review summarizes recent advances in this field including the characterization of peripheral metabolic signals to the brain such as leptin, insulin, peptide YY, ghrelin and lipid mediators as well as the vagus nerve; signalling of the metabolic sensors in the brainstem and hypothalamus via, e.g. neuropeptide Y and melanocortin peptides; integration and coordination of brain-mediated responses to nutritional challenges; the organization of food intake in simple model organisms; the mechanisms underlying food reward and processing of the sensory and metabolic properties of food in the cerebral cortex; and the development of the central metabolic system, as well as its pathological regulation in cancer and infections. Finally, recent findings on the genetics of human obesity are summarized, as well as the potential for novel treatments of body weight disorders.