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We know that high-energy food (rich in refined sugars and fats) is addictive and can lead to an eating addiction and obesity. Addiction is a very severe disorder with chronic and relapsing components. People who suffer from addiction show compulsivity, persistence to seek the reward (food), and high motivation to overconsume in some cases.

Food Addictions in People and MiceTo study eating addiction, 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 (variation in the strength of nerve signaling) 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.

Co-authored by Bru Cormand, Judit Cabana, Noelia Fernàndez

About the author

Bru Cormand, PhD, is an Associate Professor at the Department of Genetics, Microbiology & Statistics, University of Barcelona, Catalonia, He also is the Vice Dean of Research at the Faculty of Biology, where he leads the Neurogenetics research group. He has published more than 140 aricles on the genetic basis of both monogenic and multifactorial conditions, including ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and substance use disorders. He is principal investigator of several active research projects, where he uses diverse methodological approaches, from genomics and transcriptomics to cell and animal models or evolutionary insights.

Judit Cabana Dominguez, PhD does research in the Department of Genetics, Microbiology & Statistics, University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Noelia Fernández Castillo is a postdoctoral researcher of the Centre of Biomedical Network Research on Rare Diseases (CIBERER) at the Genetics Department of the Universitat de Barcelona, with experience in the fields of psychiatric genetics and neurogenetics, including resefernandez noeliaarch on substance use disorders, migraine and episodic diseases. She is a member of New Brain Nutrition and the Eat2beNICE project.

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About Bru Cormand, PhD, Judit Cabana Dominguez, PhD and Noelia Fernandez Castillo, PhD

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 728018

New Brain Nutrition is a project and brand of Eat2BeNice, a consortium of 18 European University Hospitals throughout the continent.

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