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Understanding maladaptive reward memory in young people who binge eat: Application of novel insights from addiction.

Funded Value:247,798

Funded Period:Feb 18 - Feb 20


Project Status:Active

Project Category:Research Grant

Project Reference:MR/R004919/1

Adolescence and young adulthood are periods of heightened vulnerability to a variety of harmful and risky behaviours, as the brain circuits responsible for inhibiting impulsive and risky behaviours are not fully matured. Impulse control problems, and the progression to more serious compulsive-behavioural disorders characterised by harmful overconsumption (e.g. of drugs or food) are a particular concern since they account for the highest levels of preventable morbidity and mortality throughout the world. Binge eating disorder (BED) is an example of these disorders, in which the ability to resist food - or to stop eating once an episode of overeating has begun - is impaired. BED is the most prevalent eating disorder and typically begins in adolescence. However, it is a chronic problem, lasting for many years after onset and contributing to a variety of serious psychiatric and metabolic health problems. While BED has received relatively little attention from neuroscientific researchers, there are striking parallels between BED and substance use disorders (SUDs), which also typically develop in adolescence and have been the subject of extensive basic neuroscientific, clinical and theoretical research. This has shown that abnormally strong reward memories - 'maladaptive reward memories' (MRMs) - formed during drug-use underlie drug craving and the propensity to seek and use drugs when 'trigger cues' are encountered. Coupled with deficits in inhibiting the responses sparked by these cues, MRMs cause continued relapse to drug use. Given the overlap in the behaviours, symptoms, age of onset and comorbidity between SUDs and BED, MRMs also likely play a key role in binge eating in response to food cues. Psychological treatments for BED often rely on the formation of alternative associations between food cues and new, more helpful behaviours. These compete with and temporarily suppress food-related MRMs. However, such treatments do not directly weaken MRMs, and as a result MRMs typically regain dominance over time, resulting in relapse.

In contrast, recent discoveries suggest that it is possible to directly target MRMs using behavioural techniques that could readily be adapted for use in therapy for people with BED. In particular, it is possible to 'reactivate' MRMs, a process which briefly makes these memories pliable, and then to teach new associations that 'rewrite' the MRM into an adaptive form that does not promote bingeing behaviour and prevents relapse. This approach has now been tested in heavy drinkers, smokers and heroin users, and shown to be a very promising strategy for reducing addicts' responses to drug cues. In this project, we will apply this exciting new approach to binge-eaters and determine whether similar effects are found in response to food cues, and on bingeing behaviour. We w

Project completion date : 2020-02-28 12:00:00


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Country :United Kingdom

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Publication:Mena Report
Date:Mar 8, 2019
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