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Targeting Estrogen Receptors Prevents Binge Eating In Female Mice, Study Finds

Update Date: Aug 27, 2014 09:36 AM EDT

The hormone estrogen can specifically trigger brain serotonin neurons to inhibit binge eating in female mice, according to a new study.

Binge eating is an eating disorder in which a person frequently consumes unusually large amounts of food in a short period of time. The disorder affects about 5 to 10 percent of U.S. adults and is more common in women than men. 

"Previous data has shown that women who have irregular menstrual cycles tend to be more likely to binge eat, suggesting that hormones in women play a significant role in the development or prevention of the behavior," said Dr. Yong Xu, assistant professor of pediatrics and senior author of the paper, in the press release.

"Previous data has also shown that in humans, there is a strong association between estrogen and binge eating. When estrogen is high, binge eating is inhibited, but when estrogen is low, binge eating becomes more frequent. Using mouse models, we set out to see what the effects of estrogen were on binge behavior in female mice."

Researchers first found that estrogen can strongly inhibit binge eating in mice, which was consistent with data in humans. 

"We can speculate that in women who develop binge eating who also happen to have irregular menstrual cycles, it is probably because their estrogen function is somehow damaged, which is what leads to the development of binge eating," said Xu.

Researchers further sought out to know what receptor was mediating the estrogen effect on binge eating and where the receptor was located. 

"The significance is not only understanding the mechanism of how estrogen may modulate this behavior, but from a more therapeutic point of view, this would identify a potential target for estrogen therapy or modified estrogen therapy for treatment of this problem," added Xu.

The study has been published in Journal of Clinical Investigation. 

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