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An on-off switch for eating

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2:00pm, September 26, 2013

OUT OF CONTROL  By stimulating neurons with a laser, scientists forced mice to eat, even when the animals were full.

By hijacking connections between neurons deep within the brain, scientists forced full mice to keep eating and hungry mice to shun food. By identifying precise groups of cells that cause eating and others that curb it, the results begin to clarify the intricate web of checks and balances in the brain that control feeding.

“This is a really important missing piece of the puzzle,” says neuroscientist Seth Blackshaw of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “These are cell types that weren’t even predicted to exist.” A deeper understanding of how the brain orchestrates eating behavior could lead to better treatments for disorders such as anorexia and obesity, he says.

Scientists led by Joshua Jennings and Garret Stuber of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill genetically tweaked mice so that a small group of neurons would respond to light. When a laser shone into the brain, these cells would either fire or, in a different experiment,

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