In yesterday’s (March 28, 2010) online edition of Nature Neuroscience, Paul Kinney and Paul Johnson* of The Scripps Research Institute published the results of a three-year study during which they morphed innocent, cuddly little white rats into white, furry blobs of goo that had to roll themselves to their food dishes. The B&B Blogger is here to fill you in on how they did that.
In Part 1 of the study, the researchers repeatedly drove the rats through the drive-in lane at Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. Well, that was the original plan at least. But, after a few trials, the experimental protocol had to be modified because the bad behavior of a few rats ruined it for all the others.
Part 1, Plan B was to simply allow the rats unlimited access to high-calorie, high-fat and/or high-carb foods in the laboratory while the researchers repeatedly drove themselves through the drive-in lane at co-operating donut and ice cream stores. The outcome for the researchers was not reported. But, the rats got HUGE. Huge and round to the point of resembling softballs with fat tails.
Then the researchers did something truly horrid: They withdrew the good stuff and made only healthy foods available. To the rats, that is. And, of course, the rats did what any good American rodent would do. They refused to eat and got the shakes, big time.
Next came the part that neuroscientists live for. They got to kill the rats and take out their brains and look at the brains very, very closely. What they found is very, very interesting. It seems that while the rats were ever-increasing their capacity to gorge on high-cal/fat/carb foods (or what is usually called “The American Plan” at European Hotels), their electro-chemical brain activity mirrored almost exactly the electro-chemical brain activity of tweekers who are in crystal meth tolerance training. Meaning that, like tweekers in training, the rats simply could not be satisfied physiologically without greater and greater amounts of “product.”
You’ve probably already guessed what happened when the sausage cheesecake was replaced with the spring mix. The brain activity of the rats mirrored the brain activity of humans who are suffering severe drug withdrawal symptoms. And, there is every reason to believe that the fat-withdrawal pain the rats experienced is equal to that of the drug-withdrawal pain experienced by humans.
Social commentary that has no real place here in the B&B Blog: If you are poor and living in the U.S., what is the one thing to which you have (virtually) unlimited access?
Obesity is a drug problem. Plain and simple. And, it’s going to take more than methadone milkshakes to solve it.
*Despite having the same name (Paul), these scientists are not related.
Original references for any studies, books or articles cited by the Brain and Behavior Blogger can be obtained by contact with his very dear friend, Dr. Rob Snyder (firstname.lastname@example.org), an organizational psychologist with a severe neuroscience-research reading habit.