Researchers at the NYU Langone Medical Center and the NYU School of Medicine have discovered that the hormone insulin plays a much larger role in regulating neurotransmitters in the brain than once thought. According to a university press release, insulin was found to affect the brain’s reward and pleasure centers in a significant way.
“We found that when there’s more insulin in the brain, there will be more dopamine released, not less,” said the lead investigator and NYU Langone neuroscientist Margaret Rice. The study’s findings were published in the journal Nature Communications today.
The experiments carried out on lab mice by Rice and her research team showed that insulin helps encourage the reuptake of dopamine as insulin levels increase, resulting in a net increase of the neurotransmitter in the brain. The study’s findings may help explain why people choose to eat certain foods at certain times.
Rice and her colleagues observed as much as a 55 percent increase in the release of dopamine in the striatal region of rodents’ brains. This is the same region, which tells the body it has done something good, like eating or mating, resulting in a release of dopamine and a positive feeling.
In another experiment, Rice and her colleague Kenneth Carr found that rats that were fed low-calorie diets were ten times more sensitive increases in insulin than rats that were fed normal diets.
“Our work establishes what we believe is a new role for insulin as a part of the brain’s reward system and suggests that rodents, and presumably people, may choose to consume high-carb or low-fat meals that release more insulin – all to heighten dopamine release,” Rice said.