The John B. Pierce Laboratory


Compromised dopamine signaling is associated with impulsive behaviors in obesity and alcoholism

Compromised dopamine signaling is associated with impulsive behaviors in obesity and alcoholism and administration of fatty acid amide oleoylethanolamide (OEA) has been shown to rescue dopamine signaling in rodents. Dr. Dana Small and her colleagues tested whether three-week supplementation with a dietary supplement that contains the precursor of the fatty acid amide OEA is able to reduce alcohol intake and impulsive behaviors in people that regularly drink alcohol. In a motor impulsivity task, in which letters flash onscreen and participants are asked to press a button only to ‘X’ and not to ‘K’, those participants that had received three week long dietary supplementation with OEA were better able to withhold responses to ‘K’s. This may translate to positive behavioral changes and reduced adverse consequences of impulsive decision-making. One may imagine for example, that participants on the dietary supplement make fewer bad decisions, such as drinking and driving or may be less likely to relapse when trying to quit drinking. This suggests the intriguing possibility that OEA may be a novel therapeutic target for alcohol use disorders and alcoholism.

Dr. Dana Small receives two honors

Dana Small, PhD, Deputy Director for Research at The John B. Pierce Laboratory, and Professor of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, is the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB) annual recipient of the Alan N. Epstein Research Award for 2015. The Alan N. Epstein Research Award is endowed by Professor Epstein’s family in his memory. Alan Epstein (1932-1992) was a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a distinguished researcher in ingestive behavior, and SSIB’s 4th President. In keeping with Alan’s scientific vision, this award honors an individual for a specific research discovery that has advanced the understanding of ingestive behavior. The Award consists of a plaque, a check for 750 USD, and an invitation to speak during the Awards Symposium at the SSIB Annual Meeting.

Dr. Small was also recently appointed to the National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences for a 3 year term.

Heightened ability to imagine odors linked to higher body weight

Researchers at The John B. Pierce Laboratory and the Yale School of Medicine have revealed that the ability to vividly imagine the smell of popcorn, freshly baked cookies and even non-food odors is greater in obese adults. Their research was published in the journal Appetite in August 2015 and was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), the foremost society for research into all aspects of eating and drinking behavior.

All of us can imagine the view of a favorite spot or sing a song to ourselves. Not so with imagining odors. People vary greatly in their ability to imagine the smell of freshly baked bread or the sweet aroma of a bouquet of roses. This raises the possibility that differences in the ability to imagine odors, especially food odors, might be related to the frequency with which food cravings are experienced. According to Kavanagh’s Elaborated Intrusion Theory of Desire, vivid mental imagery is a key factor in stimulating and maintaining food cravings, which can be induced by the thought, smell and sight of food. Although previous research demonstrate that food cravings occur more often in obese individuals, the relationship between the ability to imagine odors and body weight has not been examined. If individuals with higher body weights report a heightened ability to imagine odors, this may intensify the food craving experience through the creation of more vivid images of flavors and aromas

In the study, participants completed a series of questionnaires that asked them to imagine both visual and odor cues and then to subsequently rate the vividness of these cues. The researchers found that individuals with a higher body mass index (BMI) reported greater perceived ability to image food and non-food odors.

“These findings highlight the need for a more individualistic approach in identifying factors that may increase risk for weight gain,” said Dr. Barkha Patel, study lead author and Postdoctoral Fellow. They also call for “future work to assess imagery ability directly rather than relying upon self-report measures,” said Dr. Dana Small, senior author and a Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and Deputy Director at the John B. Pierce Laboratory.
For more information:

Greater Perceived Ability to Form Vivid Mental Images in Individuals with High Compared to Low BMI. BP Patel, K Aschenbrenner, D Shamah, DM Small.

Lead Author:
Dana M Small

Contact Author:
Barkha Patel
Tel: 203-562-9901 x272