We know that high-energy food (rich in refined sugars and fats) is addictive and can lead to an eating addiction and to obesity. Addiction is a very severe disorder with chronical and relapsing components. People who suffer from it show compulsivity, persistence to seek the reward (food) and high motivation to overconsume in some cases.
To study eating addition, we have developed a mouse model that shows persistence to eat, high motivation for palatable food and resistance to punishment in obtaining the food. We have tested these three characteristics in several genetically identical animals and selected two extreme groups: Mice that are vulnerable to eating addiction and mice that are resilient to it.
Mice have more than 25.000 genes in their genome, and they can be turned on or turned off (‘expressed’ or ‘not expressed’) depending on certain needs or circumstances. We are now investigating the activation status of a certain type of genes, the ones encoding the so-called microRNAs, that are very important as they are involved in regulating the function of other genes. An alteration in the status of one of these genes can have numerous downstream consequences. In particular, our studies highlighted several microRNA genes that are involved in multiple brain functions, like synaptic plasticity or neuronal development. Now we will test these alterations in patients to try to find convergent abnormalities.
All this work is being done at the Department of Genetics, Microbiology & Statistics (Universitat de Barcelona) and at the Neuropharmacology lab at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, both based in Catalonia.