Obesity is on the rise in all developed countries, and a large part of this epidemic has been attributed to excess caloric intake, induced by ever present food cues and the easy availability of energy dense foods in an environment of plenty. Clearly, there are strong homeostatic regulatory mechanisms keeping body weight of many individuals exposed to this environment remarkably stable over their adult life. Other individuals, however, seem to eat not only because of metabolic need, but also because of excessive hedonic drive to make them feel better and relieve stress. In the extreme, some individuals exhibit addiction-like behavior toward food, and parallels have been drawn to drug and alcohol addiction. However, there is an important distinction in that, unlike drugs and alcohol, food is a daily necessity. Considerable advances have been made recently in the identification of neural circuits that represent the interface between the metabolic and hedonic drives of eating. We will cover these new findings by focusing first on the capacity of metabolic signals to modulate processing of cognitive and reward functions in cortico-limbic systems (bottom-up) and then on pathways by which the cognitive and emotional brain may override homeostatic regulation (top-down).
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