We all are used to multi-tasking in this digital age, never giving it a second thought. But what if this quality has been inherent in us down to our bones, or rather nerves? Well, to be precise, scientists have recently discovered multitasking neurons which when not controlling hunger control compulsive behaviors in mice.
A group of neurons known as Agrp neurons in the hypothalamus control food intake in mice. The team of researchers activated these neurons and found that, in the absence of food, the mice engaged in repetitive behaviors like grooming and burying. They also demonstrated that these compulsive behaviors were not related to anxiety as one would deduce as a side-effect of hunger.
“These observations unmask the relevance of primitive brain regions previously linked to eating to other complex behaviors,” said lead author Dr. Marcelo Dietrich, assistant professor of comparative medicine and neurobiology and a member of the Yale Program in Integrative Cell Signaling and Neurobiology of Metabolism at Yale School of Medicine. “These findings are relevant to understanding diseases with both homeostatic and compulsive components and highlight the multitasking nature of neurons in the brain.”
According to Dietrich, the data suggests that these primitive brain regions play a crucial role in psychiatric conditions. “The research lays the groundwork for possible clinical trials to address the behavioral aspects of anorexia nervosa and other neuropsychiatric diseases with compulsive behavioral components,” he said.
Since hypothalamus is an evolutionarily conserved brain region, it is likely that these results are relevant to higher order organisms, including humans. The data from this study also suggests that these ancient brain regions play a role in psychiatric conditions. Also the scientists speculate that further research on this may reveal the real cause of anorexia nervosa and other not-so-well-known OCDs.
Original publication can be accessed here.