GLP-1 Alters How the Brain Responds to Food

Boston, Massachusetts
June 9, 2015

Gut hormone-based medications used to treat diabetes, such as GLP-1 receptor agonists, have also been shown to reduce body weight. Researchers have been working to understand how. This study, presented today at the American Diabetes Association's 75th Scientific Sessions, sheds light on how GLP-1 receptor agonists alter the brain's response to food, possibly reducing cravings and increasing satisfaction while eating.

Previous studies have shown that the brains of obese people have a greater response to pictures of food than those of lean people, and a reduced reward response during the consumption of food, which may lead to overeating. Researchers in Amsterdam tested the hypothesis that the GLP-1 receptor agonist exenatide—a medication which mimics the effects of natural GLP-1 by binding to the GLP-1 receptor—was helping patients with type 2 diabetes lose weight by altering the brain's response to food consumption and decreasing appetite.

"When you eat, there are several hormones released. GLP-1 is one of them," explained Liselotte van Bloemendaal, MD, a PhD student at the Diabetes Center, VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam. "These hormones relay information to the central nervous system about nutritional status to regulate appetite. Using functional MRIs (which measure brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow), we looked at the reward centers in the brains of obese individuals with and without type 2 diabetes and measured the response to the anticipation of and drinking of chocolate milk while being given GLP-1 receptor agonist intravenously versus placebo. We found that GLP-1 receptor activation decreased anticipatory food reward, which may reduce cravings, and increased the feeling of food reward during consumption, which may reduce overeating."

"Given the dramatic, global rise in the prevalence of obesity, further insights into the mechanisms by which these reward centers are activated are needed," she said, adding that one avenue that merits further investigation would be to study whether adding a second hormone, such as glucagon, to GLP-1 receptor agonist treatment could further increase weight loss. In addition, Bloemendaal is interested in determining if GLP-1 receptor agonists can alter cravings for drugs, alcohol and nicotine in humans, offering a possible therapeutic target for substance abuse disorders. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first GLP-1 agonist for the treatment of obesity in the United States.

About the American Diabetes Association

More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, and every 23 seconds another person is diagnosed with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association (Association) is the global authority on diabetes and since 1940 has been committed to its mission to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. To tackle this global public health crisis, the Association drives discovery in research to treat, manage and prevent all types of diabetes, as well as to search for cures; raises voice to the urgency of the diabetes epidemic; and provides support and advocacy for people living with diabetes, those at risk of developing diabetes and the health care professionals who serve them. For more information, please call the American Diabetes Association at 1-800-DIABETESS (1-800-342-2383) or visit Information from both of these sources is available in English and Spanish. Find us on Facebook (American Diabetes Association), Twitter (@AmDiabetesAssn) and Instagram (@AmDiabetesAssn)