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Do genes make some rats binge on frosting?

"Unlike humans, animals do not have the cultural, psychological, or psychosocial risk factors for binge eating, so they are simpler to study. A rat could care less what it looks like," says Kelly Klump. (Credit: Kate Sumbler/Flickr)

Psychologists hoping to learn more about what causes binge eating fed vanilla frosting to two different types of rats.

For two weeks, Kelly Klump and colleagues ran the feeding experiment with 30 Sprague-Dawley female rats and 23 Wistar rats. They wanted to find out if one strain was more prone to binge.

The rats were given their usual meal of “chow” (like chicken and vegetables for humans) and intermittently, vanilla frosting.


“We only gave the rats the vanilla frosting every other day because that mimics human binge eating habits,” says Britny Hildebrandt, a graduate student in the Klump lab.

And why vanilla frosting? “People don’t binge on lettuce or meat, they binge on sweets for the most part,” says Klump, a psychology professor at Michigan State University.

What Klump and her team found was that the rate of binge eating on vanilla frosting was much higher in Sprague-Dawley female rats.

“Now that we know that the Sprague-Dawley rats are prone to binge eating, this helps narrow the scope of the thousands of possible genes that could contribute to this disorder,” Klump says.

“We can now study the strain to identify the genes that might contribute to the disease. From there, we can map these genes in humans. If we can narrow down to 20 or so genes, then we are one step closer to finding an effective treatment for binge eating.” The study is published online in Physiology & Behavior.

Binging in humans

Klump has been on a quest for more than 20 years to find the cause of binge eating and eventually a treatment. Binge eating is one of the core symptoms of most eating disorders, including bulimia nervosa and the binge/purge subtype of anorexia.

Females are primarily affected by eating disorders with a ratio of only one male for every ten women. These disorders can last for years. During this timeframe, effective treatment is critical since eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. And if it doesn’t kill, the damage it wreaks can be irreversible, according to Klump.

“Women with eating disorders suffer tremendously and deserve to have this on our national agenda with funding for continued research,” Klump says.

“For far too long, people have thought that females with eating disorders are just vain girls who want to be pretty. Eating disorders deserve the same level of attention, treatment resources, and funding as other disorders, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. No one would say someone is schizophrenic because they just want to think interesting thoughts.”

Additional researchers from Michigan State and the University of Pittsburgh contributed to the study.

Source: Michigan State University