Brain region may have been found that controls the desire to get pregnant

(ORDO NEWS) — We know food cravings during pregnancy can involve just about anything, but how does it come about? A new study in mice has identified the part of the brain that controls these desires, which in the future could help ensure that human pregnancies are as healthy as possible.

In tests on pregnant mice, which are also found to experience drug cravings during pregnancy, the researchers noticed changes in brain circuits involved in reward, as well as in areas of the brain responsible for taste, sensory and motor systems.

In the mesolimbic pathway, which is responsible for delivering dopamine and rewarding the brain for its actions, the team found higher levels of dopamine and increased activity of the D2R dopamine receptor in an area called the nucleus accumbens, part of the brain’s reward system.

“This result suggests that pregnancy induces a complete reorganization of mesolimbic neural circuits via D2R neurons,” says neuroscientist Roberta Haddad-Tovolli of the August Pi i Sunyera Institute for Biomedical Research in Spain.

“These neuronal cells – and their change – could be responsible for food cravings, as the food anxiety typical of pregnancy disappeared after blocking their activity.”

While mice are the focus of this study, mouse brains and human brains have enough in common that scientists wonder if the same rewiring occurs when human mothers experience cravings for ice cream, chocolate, or any other food item.

Food cravings are thought to support fetal growth in a variety of ways, but there are potential problems—eating tasty, high-calorie foods can have downsides for babies and their mothers.

The researchers went on to study offspring of mice that were allowed to indulge their cravings for sugary foods and noticed differences in metabolism and neural circuitry in this next generation.

“These results are shocking…[much of the previous research in this area] has focused on analyzing how a mother’s persistent habits – such as obesity, malnutrition or chronic stress – affect the child’s health,” says neuroscientist Mark Claret from the University of Barcelona in Spain. .

“However, this study shows that short but repetitive behaviors, such as food cravings, are sufficient to increase the psychological and metabolic vulnerability of the offspring.”

In subsequent tests on the offspring of mice, the researchers identified potential problems with weight gain, anxiety, and eating disorders. It remains to be seen how this will affect people, but the signs are not very good.

The research team hopes the results of the study will help develop nutritional guidelines for expectant mothers, ensuring that even if food cravings are indulged from time to time, the overall diet remains healthy and beneficial for both mother and baby.

With a problem like food cravings during pregnancy, when there is so much anecdotal evidence about what happens and why, it’s important that as much scientific research as possible is focused on the underlying causes, the researchers say.

“There are many myths and popular beliefs about these cravings, although the neural mechanisms that cause them are not as widely known,” Claret says.

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