In This Article
- Oxytocin, known for its role in social bonding, childbirth and breastfeeding, is also involved in controlling how much people eat
- A study led by Liya Kerem, MD, MSc, demonstrates that oxytocin nasal spray impacts pathways in the brain that are involved in eating behavior
- The researchers used fMRI to examine how oxytocin impacts the functional connectivity between the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the rest of the brain
- They found that oxytocin weakened the communication between the VTA and regions in the brain involved in food behavior
Oxytocin—a naturally occuring hormone that is best known for its role in social bonding, childbirth and breastfeeding—also plays an influential role in how much people eat and what they weigh. A recent study demonstrates that oxytocin nasal spray, which has yet to be approved in the U.S., influences pathways in the brain involved in eating behavior and decreases men's food intake.
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Liya Kerem, MD, MSc, a pediatric endocrinology fellow at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, and colleagues investigated the impact of oxytocin on the brain's reward pathways. The researchers' prior findings revealed that oxytocin could lower the activation of the ventral tegmental area (VTA), an important part of the brain's reward system. Building on those findings, the researchers used fMRI to examine how oxytocin impacts the communication between the VTA and the rest of the brain.
In the study, 10 healthy but overweight or obese men were randomly given different treatments for two visits to the research lab. After fasting, the men self-administered a single dose of oxytocin nasal spray or a placebo. The men did not know which treatment they administered. An hour after the men had taken either treatment, they underwent fMRI while looking at pictures of high-calorie foods, low-calorie foods and nonfood objects.
In comparison to the placebo, oxytocin weakened the communication between the VTA and regions in the brain involved in food behavior when the men looked at pictures of high-calorie food.
Dr. Kerem says this study shows that oxytocin modulates brain pathways during their responses to rewarding foods. This research could bring oxytocin nasal spray closer to use as a new obesity treatment.
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