Millions of individuals struggle with binge-eating disorder (BED), characterized by overeating during periods marked with loss of control and followed by lasting distress and guilt. These struggles are highly misunderstood and commonly attributed to a lack of self-discipline and restraint, rather than a true neuropsychiatric eating disorder. Contrary to this belief, BED is a severe condition that can disrupt an individual’s quality of life and may require behavioral treatment and medication (Hunnicutt, 2020). This blog post discusses the groundbreaking discovery of a gene linked to BED, which may further pharmacological applications by improving targeted gene therapy.
Previous research has shown that genetic and family-related health factors may contribute 40-60 percent to the development of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (Trace et al., 2013). However, we know very little about how genetics may influence the development of BED. Though disordered eating has long been associated with sociocultural influences, a recent study has identified a genetic component that may predispose one to develop behaviors consistent with BED (Kirkpatrick et al., 2016).
In this study, researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) employed genetic techniques to establish a relationship between a mutation in the gene CYFIP2 (cytoplasmic FMR1-interacting protein 2) and binge eating (Goldberg, 2017).
In 2016, the BUSM scientists conducted an experiment on laboratory mice, with some known to possess addictive behaviors towards alcohol or stimulants. After breeding the mice in different combinations for two generations and observing their eating habits, the researchers noticed that one strain of mice heightened their eating quantities tremendously, while the other strain remained constant (Kirkpatrick et al., 2016). This unveiled an underlying relationship between genetic inheritance and eating behaviors. That is, researchers found a causal link between a mutation in the gene CYFIP2 and binge eating behaviors (Goldberg, 2017).
In short, these results indicate that there may be major genetic risk factors for developing BED in addition to sociocultural pressures (Goldberg, 2017). The discovery of the “binge-eating gene” is breaking new ground on the development of more effective BED treatments to restore healthy eating behaviors.
Cynthia M. Bulik is a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who pioneered the first genome-wide association for anorexia nervosa (Duncan et al., 2016). Bulik has recently launched the Binge Eating Genetics INitiative (BEGIN), which aims to further understand the genetic factors associated with binge-eating disorder and bulimia nervosa (Bulik et al., 2020). Find out more at edgi.org.
Bulik, C. M., Butner, J. E., Tregarthen, J., Thornton, L. M., Flatt, R. E., Smith, T., Carroll, I. M., Baucom, R. W., & Deboeck, P. R. (2020, June 16). The Binge Eating Genetics Initiative (Begin): Study protocol. BMC Psychiatry. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-020-02698-7.
Duncan, E. L., Thornton, L. M., Hinney, A., Daly, M. J., Sullivan, P. F., Zeggini, E., Breen, G., & Bulik, C. M. (2016, January 1). Genome-wide association study reveals first locus for anorexia nervosa and metabolic correlations. bioRxiv. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/088815v2.
Goldberg, M. S. (2017, May 2). BU Researchers Find Gene Associated with Binge Eating in Mice. Boston University. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.bu.edu/articles/2017/binge-eating-gene/.
Hunnicutt, C. (2020, September 30). Risk factors and signs of binge eating disorder and how to help loved ones get help. Monte Nido. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.montenido.com/signs-of-binge-eating-disorder/.
Kirkpatrick, S. L., Goldberg, L. R., Yazdani, N., Mulligan, M. K., Cottone, P., & Bryant, C. D. (2016, October 25). Cytoplasmic FMR1-Interacting Protein 2 Is a Major Genetic Factor Underlying Binge Eating. Biological Psychiatry, A Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience and Therapeutics. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(16)32940-7/fulltext#secsect0005.
Trace, S. E., Baker, J. H., Peñas-Lledó, E., & Bulik, C. M. (2013). The genetics of eating disorders. Annual review of clinical psychology, 9, 589–620. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-050212-185546
By: Anjeli Patel
Anjeli is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, and this is her first year working in the Living F.R.E.E. Lab.