Neuroscientists Cracks Mystery Of Hungry Anger

Being “hangry” is real.

It’s not only that we have less energy when we’re hungry; it can also affect our cognitive and emotional functioning. Ghrelin is a hormone that controls the intricate interaction between physical and mental processes that lead to hunger. University College London neuroscientist Andrew MacAskill has published a study in the journal Neuron showing that the hippocampus, a critical brain region for drawing upon past experiences when making decisions, can directly respond to hunger hormones.

According to the results, a subpopulation of hippocampal brain cells was more active as the mice got closer to the food source. This action was more potent when the mouse was full and prevented further feeding. In contrast, this brain region was less active when the mice were hungry, which made them more inclined to consume the food. A rise in ghrelin, the hunger hormone, accompanied the drop in activity.

When our stomachs are empty, ghrelin is released into the circulation and goes to the hypothalamus, a brain area responsible for regulating hunger, heart rate, body temperature, and other vital functions. However, it also appears to dampen activity in the hippocampus and perhaps other brain regions. Mice with these ghrelin receptors deleted exhibited signs of fullness and avoided food because of enhanced hippocampal activity.

MacAskill remarked that the hippocampus stops an animal’s instinct to eat when food is available to ensure that it does not overeat; however, if the animal is ravenous, hormones will direct the brain to switch off the brakes, and the animal will proceed to eat.

Other hunger-related behaviors, such as getting “hangry,” may be influenced by this hippocampus activity (or lack thereof).

These results suggest that hunger hormones and their receptors may play a role in the pathophysiology of eating disorders. Until recently, hunger signaling was not considered, but the realization that hunger may directly impact how we learn is essential for understanding how our learning and memory might go awry, for example, in mental illness or Alzheimer’s disease.

Perhaps we can develop more effective solutions if we factor in hunger.