Researchers found that mice that lack the estrogen-related receptor alpha (ESRRA) gene are less motivated to seek out high-fat food when they are hungry and have abnormal social interactions.

The effect was stronger in female mice, which also showed increased obsessive-compulsive-like behaviours.

The study also shows that ESRRA levels are controlled by energy status in the mice. Restricting calorie intake to 60 per cent of normal over several days significantly increased levels of ESRRA in the brains of normal mice.

"Decreased calorie intake usually motivates animals, including humans, to seek out high-calorie food. These findings suggest that loss of ESRRA activity may disrupt that response," said Michael Lutter, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa.

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are common and severe mental illnesses. Lutter notes that although 50 to 70 per cent of the risk of getting an eating disorder is inherited, identifying the genes that mediate this risk has proven difficult.


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