The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology


From taste hedonics to motivational drive: central μ-opioid receptors and binge-eating behaviour

Pradeep J. Nathana1a2a3 c1 and Edward T. Bullmorea1a2

a1 Brain Mapping Unit, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, UK

a2 Experimental Medicine, Clinical Unit Cambridge, GlaxoSmithKline, UK

a3 School of Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine, Monash University, Australia


Endogenous opioids and μ-opioid receptors (MORs) have long been implicated in the mechanism of appetite control and, in particular, hedonic processes associated with food evaluation, consumption and orosensory reward processes. In animal models of binge eating, selective MOR antagonists suppress food consumption. In humans, non-selective opioid receptor antagonists reduce hedonic taste preferences and food intake, particularly for palatable foods, and cause short-term weight loss. These effects have been linked to direct stimulation of MORs and modulation of dopamine release within the reward circuitry including the nucleus accumbens. These findings suggest that reduction of MOR-mediated hedonic and motivation processes driving consumption of highly palatable foods may be a promising therapeutic approach and provide a strong rationale for developing safer and more selective MOR antagonists or inverse agonists for disorders of ‘appetitive motivation’ including obesity and binge-eating disorder.

(Received January 12 2009)

(Reviewed March 14 2009)

(Revised March 22 2009)

(Accepted April 03 2009)

(Online publication May 12 2009)


c1 Address for correspondence: Professor P. J. Nathan, GSK Clinical Unit Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2GG, UK. Tel.: +44 (0)1223 296081 Fax: +44 (0)1223 296108 Email: or