Research Press Release

Neuroscience: Dopamine responsible for pregnancy food cravings in mice

Nature Metabolism

April 5, 2022

Food cravings during pregnancy are driven by dopamine signalling within the brain’s reward system, according to a mouse study published in Nature Metabolism. These preliminary findings, which additionally reveal that such eating behaviours may have long lasting metabolic consequences in offspring, provide insights into the neuronal basis of pregnancy-related food cravings.

Despite cravings for highly palatable foods being a common feature during pregnancy — and one that can contribute to the development of weight gain or obesity — the underlying neurobiology remains elusive, partly due to the difficulty in modelling such behaviours in the laboratory.

Haddad-Tóvolli and colleagues designed an experiment that allowed them to measure food craving-like behaviours in pregnant mice. The authors reveal that gestation affects the connectivity of the brain, particularly components of the dopaminergic circuitry, which is involved in the perception of rewarding stimuli and drive food craving-like episodes. The pups from pregnant mice that were allowed to engage in food craving-like behaviours were also affected; compared to controls, they had increased body weight and were more likely to develop anxiety-like behaviours and eating disorders during adulthood. Male mice were found to be more likely to develop such behaviours than females.

In an associated News & Views, Serge Luquet and Giuseppe Gangarossa highlight that “further research will be needed to identify the hormonal, nutritional and environmental factors that contribute to the establishment of a vulnerability window during pregnancy, as well as to investigate whether genetic human polymorphisms may account for brain resilience or susceptibility to developing food-craving episodes during gestation.”


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