06/25/2012 10:35 am ET Updated Jun 25, 2012

Overeating And Cocaine Abuse Controlled By Same Neurons In Brain, Study Says

People less interested in food might be at a higher risk for cocaine addiction, according to researchers at Yale School of Medicine.

The new study found that a set of neurons located in the part of the brain that controls hunger are associated not only with overeating, but other behaviors not linked to food, like novelty-seeking and drug addiction.

The findings, published in the June 24 online issue of Nature Neuroscience, suggest that an increased interest in food leads to a decreased interest in novelty and cocaine.

YaleNews has more information from the one of the study's leaders, Tamas L. Horvath, the Jean and David W. Wallace Professor of Biomedical Research and chair of comparative medicine at Yale School of Medicine:

Horvath and his team argue that the hypothalamus, which controls vital functions such as body temperature, hunger, thirst fatigue and sleep, is key to the development of higher brain functions. "These hunger-promoting neurons are critically important during development to establish the set point of higher brain functions, and their impaired function may be the underlying cause for altered motivated and cognitive behaviors," he said.

The assertion flies in the face of current wisdom that overeating is similar to cocaine abuse on a neuron level.

As Horvath told YaleNews, "But here, we provide a contrasting view: that the reward aspect can be very high, but subjects can still be very lean. At the same time, it indicates that a set of people who have no interest in food, might be more prone to drug addiction."