Controlling overeating: how does signalling to cannabinoid receptors influence eating habits?

An image of a large plate of food to illustrate the concept of overeating and cannabinoid receptors
© iStock/diane555

A new study has found that overactive signalling to cannabinoid receptors in the gut drives overeating in diet-induced obesity in a mouse model.

Endocannabinoids are naturally produced cannabis-like molecules in the body which regulate immune, behavioural and neuronal processes. Endocannabinoids enhance feeding behaviour. The study has shown that overactive signalling to the endocannabinoid system blocks gut-brain satiation signalling, causing overeating in mice.

Explaining the process of overeating

The study found that:

  • The cannabinoid receptors in the gut of mice which were fed a high fat and high sugar Western diet for sixty days had a high activity of endocannabinoids;
  • This prevented the food-induced secretion of cholecystokinin, a satiation peptide which inhibits eating; and
  • This resulted in these mice overeating..

Nicholas V DiPatrizio who is an assistant professor of biomedical sciences in the UCR School of Medicine led the research team. DiPatrizio explained that previous showed that oral exposure to dietary fats stimulates the production of the body’s endocannbinoids in the gut, causing the further intake of high-fat foods in rat models.

Other researchers have found that increased endocannabinoid levels in humans are seen in the blood just before and after eating palatable high-energy food.

Developing drugs to target cannabinoid receptors

DiPatrizio said: “If drugs could be developed to target these cannabinoid receptors so that the release of satiation peptides is not inhibited during excessive eating, we would be a step closer to addressing the prevalence of obesity that affects millions of people in the country and around the world.”

Donovan A. Argueta, a doctoral student in DiPatrizio’s lab and first author of the paper, added: “Research in humans has shown that eating associated with a palatable diet led to an increase in endocannabinoids – but whether or not endocannabinoids control the release of satiation peptides is yet to be determined.”

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