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Food is consumed in order to maintain energy balance at homeostatic levels. In addition, palatable food is also consumed for its hedonic properties independent of energy status. Such reward-related consumption can result in caloric intake exceeding requirements and is considered a major culprit in the rapidly increasing rates of obesity in developed countries.
Compared with homeostatic mechanisms of feeding, much less is known about how hedonic systems in brain influence food intake. Intriguingly, excessive consumption of palatable food can trigger neuroadaptive responses in brain reward circuitries similar to drugs of abuse. Furthermore, similar genetic vulnerabilities in brain reward systems can increase predisposition to drug addiction and obesity.
Here, recent advances in our understanding of the brain circuitries that regulate hedonic aspects of feeding behavior will be reviewed. Also, emerging evidence suggesting that obesity and drug addiction may share common hedonic mechanisms will also be considered.