NEW YORK — Scientists from France have found that anorexia and the highly addicting club-drug ecstasy activate some of the same brain pathways, a finding that may help explain the addictive nature of anorexia and other eating disorders and lead to new treatments. In a paper published this week, Dr. Valerie Compan of Center’s National de la Recherche Scientifique, Montpellier, and colleagues report that both anorexia and ecstasy reduce the drive to eat by stimulating the same subset of receptors for the neurotransmitter serotonin.
These so-called 5-HT4 receptors are located in a brain structure associated with feelings of reward called the nucleus accumbens. In mice, Compan and colleagues stimulated these receptors, which are known to play a role in addictive behavior, and found that this led to anorexic-like behavior — food-fed mice ate less and food-deprived mice showed a reduced drive to eat. Stimulating these receptors in mice also boosted production of the same enzymes stimulated in response to cocaine and amphetamine use. Blocking the receptors increased food intake in the animals and mice missing these receptors were less sensitive to the appetite-suppressant effects of ecstasy.