October 6, 2022

Stress, obesity and food intake

Vanderbilt researchers are elucidating the neuronal pathways that contribute to food consumption in response to stress — “comfort feeding” — and how they differ in males versus females and in the context of obesity.

Stress can promote weight gain, especially in people who are already obese. In mice, Julio Ayala, PhD, and colleagues found that while lean male mice ate less when stressed, obese mice maintained their typical food intake.

To understand these differences, they looked at the dorsal lateral septum, a brain region involved in stress responses. In lean males, stress caused increased activation of neurons expressing Glp1r, a protein important for maintaining normal blood glucose levels and for reducing food intake.

This effect was absent in obese males. Low activation of neurons expressing Glp1r and no reduction in food intake in response to stress also was observed in both lean and obese female mice.

The study, published in Molecular Metabolism, suggests that activation of lateral septum neurons expressing Glp1r during stress contributes to reduced food intake in lean male mice, and that an impairment in the activation of these neurons may contribute to the susceptibility of individuals with obesity to consume more calories in response to stress.

Co-authors include Michelle Bales, PhD, Samuel Centanni, PhD, Joseph Luchsinger, MD, PhD, Payam Fathi, Jessica Biddinger, PhD, Thao Le, Kaitlyn Nwaba, Isabella Paldrmic, and Danny Winder, PhD.

This study was supported by National Institutes of Health grants DK007563, AA019455, AA027774, and DK059637.