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Central dopaminergic circuitry controlling food intake and reward: implications for the regulation of obesity

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Prevalence of obesity in the general population has increased in the past 15 years from 15% to 35%. With increasing obesity, the coincident medical and social consequences are becoming more alarming. Control over food intake is crucial for the maintenance of body weight and represents an important target for the treatment of obesity. Central nervous system mechanisms responsible for control of food intake have evolved to sense the nutrient and energy levels in the organism and to coordinate appropriate responses to adjust energy intake and expenditure. This homeostatic system is crucial for maintenance of stable body weight over long periods of time of uneven energy availability. However, not only the caloric and nutritional value of food but also hedonic and emotional aspects of feeding affect food intake. In modern society, the increased availability of highly palatable and rewarding (fat, sweet) food can significantly affect homeostatic balance, resulting in dysregulated food intake. This review will focus on the role of hypothalamic and mesolimbic/mesocortical dopaminergic (DA) circuitry in coding homeostatic and hedonic signals for the regulation of food intake and maintenance of caloric balance. The interaction of dopamine with peripheral and central indices of nutritional status (e.g., leptin, ghrelin, neuropeptide Y), and the susceptibility of the dopamine system to prenatal insults will be discussed. Additionally, the importance of alterations in dopamine signaling that occur coincidently with obesity will be addressed. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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Figure 1.

Dopamine interactions in the CNS. Dopamine cells in the VTA express receptors for numerous molecules important in the central regulation of food intake. Dopamine neurons project widely to numerous areas that express D1 and D2 dopamine receptors. There are extensive interactions between these regions. *Note: Receptor colocalization has not been experimentally examined for each receptor subtype.

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