With obesity rates continuing to rise, new and different research approaches are needed to develop strategies to impede this trend. I have been using preclinical models to study the unique theory that overeating of palatable foods, in the form of binge eating, can resemble an """"""""addiction"""""""" to food, with concomitant behaviors and neurochemical changes that are like those seen with drug addiction. These data and the findings of others support the theory that overeating of palatable food might produce an extreme motivation that resembles a dependency on certain foods, possibly fueling the urge to overeat and subsequent obesity in some individuals. As it is imperative to test whether animal models of overeating are clinically reliable, in this proposal I plan to obtain clinical research training so that I can study and refine psychometric methods to assess """"""""food addiction"""""""" in clinical patients who are obese or have binge eating disorder. Further, I plan to take the next step in my preclinical research by obtaining data on the effect that overeating can have on the expression of genes that are known to have roles in addiction, and to understand how overeating on different types of nutrients (i.e., fat vs. sugar) can affect related brain systems and subsequent behavior. I have an aggregate skill set that will be further developed in this proposal, which will enable me to complete these studies and facilitate my development as an independent research scientist. I have a Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience from Princeton University and postdoctoral experience in molecular biology from The Rockefeller University. I am now Assistant Research Professor at University of Florida, College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry. My research studies up to this point have focused on using my skills in behavioral neuroscience and molecular biology to study of """"""""food addiction,"""""""" in part, through the use of an animal model of sugar dependence that I developed in my Ph.D. research. This research has resulted in 33 publications, many speaking invitations and presentations, and several awards. Further, I have a track record of obtaining funding through individual predoctoral and postdoctoral NIH NRSA awards, and small private foundations. Recognizing the importance and usefulness of translational research, I now plan to expand my research skills by obtaining additional training in clinical science. This will allow me to relate my preclinical studies of overeating to clinical populations, and this will help to provide further validity to the theory of """"""""food addiction."""""""" This proposal outlines a series of career development activities that will be conducted within the context of translational research on overeating palatable foods and the possible ensuing development of """"""""food addiction."""""""" The research and career development activities will occur at the University of Florida, College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, which is an ideal place for this training to take place. Not only are there several researchers in the Addition Medicine division of the Department of Psychiatry who are interested in studying """"""""natural addictions,"""""""" but there are also resources and individuals throughout the University of Florida that will be an asset to this research project and my development as an independent scientist. A team of mentors has been assembled to guide me through this development phase, each with a unique contribution to the proposed training and research elements. In addition, I have identified collaborators that will contribute their expertise and knowledge to the proposed experiments. Career development plans include advanced coursework in clinical research, epidemiology and statistics, as well as participation in scientific organizations, attendance to lectures and seminars, and training in the responsible conduct of research. The research training will focus on developing my skills as a clinical researcher so I can conduct translational research on overeating and abnormal food intake. In the long term, I hope to have my own teaching and research laboratory in which I can continue to conduct research on the neurobiology of aberrant feeding behavior using both preclinical and clinical models. The proposed experiments are centered on developing a translational line of inquiry.
Aim 1 will employ clinical research practices and psychometrics to modify and implement the Yale Food Addiction Scale in obese and binge eating disorder patients and normal controls to 1) determine if patients in these clinical populations show signs of """"""""food addiction"""""""" using this scale, and 2) relate food preference to the addiction-like behaviors using newly-developed subscales. Further, to inform and expand on these findings, Aim 2 is a preclinical research component that will assess differences in behaviors and gene expression in reward-related brain areas that result from overeating fat vs. sugar using established animal models.
Aim 2 will use behavioral measures and molecular biological techniques in rodent models of overeating. This translational approach to research will permit a better understanding of various aspects of overeating and inform the development of future models to investigate the biological basis of aberrant feeding behavior, which may then be applied to studies in clinical populations. At the end of this training, I will be able to launch a career as an independent investigator and be poised to develop a comprehensive, programmatic translational research program.

Public Health Relevance

This research will inform the field of obesity and eating disorders research by providing novel assessment tools to determine if certain clinical populations show signs of addiction to palatable foods rich in fat or sugar. Further, the translational nature of this proposal will elucidate previously unknown brain mechanisms that may underlie the addiction-like behaviors seen response to these nutrients.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Scientist Development Award - Research & Training (K01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZDA1)
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Volman, Susan
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St. Luke's-Roosevelt Institute for Health Sciences
New York
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Murray, Susan; Tulloch, Alastair; Criscitelli, Kristen et al. (2016) Recent studies of the effects of sugars on brain systems involved in energy balance and reward: Relevance to low calorie sweeteners. Physiol Behav 164:504-508
Murray, Susan M; Tulloch, Alastair J; Chen, Eunice Y et al. (2015) Insights revealed by rodent models of sugar binge eating. CNS Spectr 20:530-6
Murray, Susan; Kroll, Cindy; Avena, Nicole M (2015) Food and addiction among the ageing population. Ageing Res Rev 20:79-85
Schulte, Erica M; Avena, Nicole M; Gearhardt, Ashley N (2015) Which foods may be addictive? The roles of processing, fat content, and glycemic load. PLoS One 10:e0117959
Orsini, Caitlin A; Ginton, Guy; Shimp, Kristy G et al. (2014) Food consumption and weight gain after cessation of chronic amphetamine administration. Appetite 78:76-80
Hill, James O; Berridge, Kent; Avena, Nicole M et al. (2014) Neurocognition: the food–brain connection. Adv Nutr 5:544-6
Bocarsly, M E; Avena, N M (2013) A high-fat diet or galanin in the PVN decreases phosphorylation of CREB in the nucleus accumbens. Neuroscience 248C:61-66
Gold, Mark S; Avena, Nicole M (2013) Animal models lead the way to further understanding food addiction as well as providing evidence that drugs used successfully in addictions can be successful in treating overeating. Biol Psychiatry 74:e11
Avena, Nicole M; Murray, Susan; Gold, Mark S (2013) Comparing the effects of food restriction and overeating on brain reward systems. Exp Gerontol 48:1062-7
Avena, Nicole M; Murray, Susan; Gold, Mark S (2013) The next generation of obesity treatments: beyond suppressing appetite. Front Psychol 4:721

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