Pharmacology of appetite suppression

by Halford JC, Blundell JE
Department of Psychology,
Eleanor Rathbone Building,
University of Liverpool, UK.
Prog Drug Res 2000; 54:25-58


Despite a rising worldwide epidemic of obesity there is currently only a very small number of anti-obesity drugs available to manage the problem. Large numbers of differing pharmacological agents reliably produce a reduction in food intake when administered acutely to animals, and when administered chronically they result in a significant decrease in body mass. Behavioural analysis of drug-induced anorexia in animals demonstrates that various compounds profoundly effect feeding behaviour in differing ways. This indicates the variety of mechanisms by which pharmacological agents can induce changes in food intake, body weight and eventually body composition. Some of the same drugs produce decreases in food intake and weight loss in humans. Some of these drugs do so by modifying the functioning of the appetite system as measured by subjective changes in feelings of hunger and fullness (indices of satiety). Such drugs can be considered as “appetite suppressants” with clinical potential as anti-obesity agents. Other drugs induce changes in food intake and body weight through various physiological mechanisms inducing feelings of nausea or even by side effect related malaise. Of the drugs considered suitable candidates for appetite suppressants are agents which act via peripherally satiety peptide systems (such as CCK, Bombesin/GRP, Enterostatin and GLP-1), or alter the CNS levels of various hypothalamic neuropeptides (NPY, Galanin, Orexin and Melanocortins) or levels of the key CNS appetite monoamine neurotransmitters such as serotonin (5-HT) and noradrenaline (NA). Recently, the hormone leptin has been regarded as a hormonal signal linking adipose tissue status with a number of key central nervous system circuits. The peptide itself stimulates leptin receptors and it links with POMC and MC-4 receptors. These receptors may also provide drug targets for the control of appetite. Any changes induced by a potential appetite suppressant should be considered in terms of the (i) psychological experience and behavioural expression of appetite, (ii) metabolism and peripheral physiology, and (iii) functioning of CNS neural pathways. In humans, modulation of appetite may involve changes in total caloric consumption, subjective changes in feelings of hunger and fullness, preferences for specific food items, and general macronutrient preferences. These may be expressed behaviourally as changes in meal patterns, snacking behaviour and food choice. Within the next 20 years it is certain that clinicians will have a new range of anti-obesity compounds available to choose from. Such novel compounds may act on a single component of the appetite system or target a combination of these components detailed in this review. Such compounds used in combination with lifestyle changes and dietary intervention may be useful in dealing with the rising world epidemic of obesity.