Jessica R. Barson, Irene Morganstern, and Sarah F. Leibowitz
Jessica R. Barson, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow; Irene Morganstern, PhD, is a postdoctoral associate; and Sarah F. Leibowitz, PhD, is a research associate professor, all in the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurobiology at The Rockefeller University in New York, New York. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Sarah F. Leibowitz, Laboratory of Behavioral Neurobiology, The Rockefeller University, New York, New York 10065 or email email@example.com.
Consummatory behavior is driven by both caloric and emotional need, and a wide variety of animal models have been useful in research on the systems that drive consumption of food and drugs. Models have included selective breeding for a specific trait, manipulation of gene expression, forced or voluntary exposure to a substance, and identification of biomarkers that predict which animals are prone to overconsuming specific substances. This research has elucidated numerous brain areas and neurochemicals that drive consummatory behavior. Although energy homeostasis is primarily mediated by the hypothalamus, reinforcement is more strongly mediated by nuclei outside the hypothalamus, in mesocorticolimbic regions. Orexigenic neurochemicals that control food intake can provide a general signal for promoting caloric intake or a more specific signal for stimulating consumption of a particular macronutrient, fat, carbohydrate, or protein. The neurochemicals involved in controlling fat ingestion—galanin, enkephalin, orexin, melanin-concentrating hormone, and the endocannabinoids—show positive feedback with this macronutrient, as these peptides both increase fat intake and are further stimulated by its intake. This positive association offers some explanation for why foods high in fat are so often overconsumed. Consumption of ethanol, a drug of abuse that also contains calories, is similarly driven by the neurochemical systems involved in fat intake, according to evidence that closely relates fat and ethanol consumption. Further understanding of the systems involved in consummatory behavior will enable the development of effective therapies for the treatment of both overeating and drug abuse.