2015 Grant Award - Emily M. Pisetsky, Ph.D.

The Role of Pro-Inflammatory Mediators in Obesity and Binge Eating

Emily M. Pisetsky, Ph.D.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota

The objective of this study is to determine the role of inflammation in negative affect and binge eating in obese individuals, testing the hypothesis that immune mediators can drive symptomatology. Obesity is marked by increased circulating levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other markers of inflammation and is thus conceptualized as a “low-grade inflammatory state.” Inflammation is considered a central biological mechanism in the increased likelihood of developing a psychiatric disorder while overweight or obese. In addition to obesity leading to increases in pro-inflammatory mediators, stressful life events can also lead to inflammatory activation. Stress and negative affect are precipitants to binge eating, a common behavioral feature of individuals with obesity. Therefore, immune mediators may drive the association between affect and behavior. Although there is an extensive literature examining the effect of inflammation on obesity and mood, and the effect of mood on binge eating, there are no studies to date examining the effect of inflammation and mood on binge eating. Therefore, the aims of the present study are 1) to examine markers of inflammation in obese individuals with and without depressive symptoms, and 2) to evaluate the association between markers of inflammation and binge eating behavior. We hypothesize that, compared to obese participants without depressive symptoms, obese participants with depressive symptoms will show higher levels of immune mediators. Additionally, we hypothesize that in the presence of stress and negative affect, individuals with higher levels of immune mediators at baseline will be more likely to engage in binge eating. It is anticipated that the completion of the proposed research would lead to compelling evidence of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other markers of inflammation as novel biomarkers to assess course of disease, treatment response, and to identify at-risk individuals for comorbid depression and binge eating. These data will be used to submit an application to the NIH for funding to pilot a treatment that specifically targets immunological function in individuals with obesity, mood disturbance, and binge eating behavior.