Harvard scientists have identified the neural network that controls hunger - and shown how to artificially activate them to promote a feeling of fullness in mice.

The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, show a group of neurons in the hypothalamus called the Agouti-peptide-expressing (AGRP) cause hunger.

Activating the melanoncortin 4 receptor-regulated (MC4R) circuit in the brains of genetically engineered mice can function "like a break" on those hunger pangs.

Turning on those neurons is as effective for weightloss as dieting - but does not cause the same hunger pangs/discomfort that come with deliberately restricting food.

"Determining the identity of these 'satiety' neurons is the key to establishing the blueprint for how the brain can regulate appetite," Dr Bradford Lowell, a senior author of the study said.

"It was an important missing point of connection in the wiring diagram. Our findings suggest that the therapeutic targeting of these cells may reduce both food consumption and the aversive sensations of hunger."

The breakthrough could be useful for developing a drug to treat obesity.

More: A neural basis for melanocortin-4 receptor–regulated appetite

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