THE SELFISH BRAIN THEORY

The Selfish Brain Theory

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THE SELFISH BRAIN THEORY

The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group - University of Luebeck

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For a better understanding of obesity

The human brain possesses the natural characteristic, in a figurative sense, of being 'selfish'. Of all the organs it is the one that allocates the most energy to itself in order to cover its own high energy needs. This aspect is viewed by the "Selfish Brain" theory, which Prof. Achim Peters founded and developed further with experts from other disciplines, as
- the key feature for organizing the energy supply of the human organism and
- the key to understanding a number of diseases including obesity.

This site is aimed primarily at those who want to acquire more information about the origins of obesity.

Several sources of information are available to satisfy this need:
- DFG Clinical Research Group "Selfish Brain" - Members, International Advisory Board, Research goals
- Publications - primarily for scientists and clinicians
- Press - mainly for journalists and other interested individuals
- Didactic Film - Organization of the energy fluxes within the human organism (flash version only)

For an extract from the initial 2004 review, detailed information on 'The Selfish Brain Theory', the objectives and projects of the Research Group and a list of all other project-related scientific publications as well as easy to understeand pressinformations and a pressreview, please visit our flash site: THE SELFISH BRAIN THEORY. The initial review 'The selfish brain: competition for energy resources' is availble as a reprint through the order form on the website, or just mailto: achim.peters 'at' uk-sh.de. The original publication is available online at Elsevier's SCIENCEDIRECT.COM.


DFG Research Group: 'Selfish Brain'

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has implemented the Clinical Research Group
"Selfish brain: Brain glucose and metabolic syndrome" by a grant in December 2004.

Objectives of the research group:
The clinical research group "Selfish Brain" aims at a systemic understanding of human energy metabolism. The brain takes a prior-ranking position in the organism. Here we show the new perspective that the brain assigns highest priority to the regulation of its own adenosintriphosphate (ATP) concentrations. It fulfils this tenet by orchestrating metabolism in the complete organism. The brain activates an energy request system which directly couples the cerebral energy supply with the cerebral need. The central request system is organized hierarchically with the cerebral hemispheres, the hypothalamus, and the peripheral somatomotor, autonomic-visceromotor, and the neuroendocrine-secretomotor neurons. The system initiates allocative behaviour (i.e. allocation of energy from the body to the brain), ingestive behaviour (intake of food from the immediate environment) or exploratory behaviour (search for food in the more remote environment). Cerebral projections coordinate these three behaviour strategies so that the energy supply of the brain is guaranteed continuously. In a continuous learning process the cerebral request system adapts to different environmental conditions and stressful challenges. An interruption of the signal pathways of the cerebral energy request is critical for the development of adiposity: If the brain can request energy only insufficiently from the body periphery, then it compensates for this insufficient supply with an increased eating, and thereby leaves a surplus to the body: in the long run obesity arises. We derive hypotheses from this new concept and test these systematically with the help of a networked experimental programme. In our approach towards the "integrative physiology" of the energy metabolism we try to unify the knowledge of the different levels of the physiological research like molecule, cell, and organism to an overall picture.

The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group - Members

This section gives an overview about The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group members, a profile of the research group leader Achim Peters and each of the other group members and their publications. The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group is subdevided into projects exploring the different fields of the 'The Selfish-Brain-Theory'.Here a simple members list with links to recent publictions if available. For a more detailed version please visite our Flash site

Head of The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group:

Achim Peters; Professor of Internal Medicine, Endocrinology; Medical Clinic 1 - University of Luebeck; Germany,

Projectleaders:

Project  Z: Dirk Langemann; Institute of Mathematics - University of Luebeck; Germany, Homepage
Project B1: Luc Pellerin; Associate Prof. of Physiology, PhD; Département de Physiologie - University of Lausanne; Switzerland,
Thomas Peters; PhD, Prof. of Chemistry; Institute of Chemistry - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Project B2: Kerstin M. Oltmanns; Prof. of Psychoneurobiology; Clinic of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Uwe H. Melchert; PhD, Physicist; Institute of Neuroradiology - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Ferdinand Binkofski; MD, Prof. of Neurology; Clinic of Neurology - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Project B3: Ulrich Schweiger; Professor of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy; Clinic of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Dirk Petersen, Professor of Neuroradiology; Institute of Neuroradiology - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Fritz Hohagen; Professor of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy; Clinic of Psychiatryand Psychotherapy - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Project B4: Isabel Pais; MD; Medical Clinic 1 - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Jan Born; PhD, Prof.of Psychology, Neuroendocrinology; Institute of Neuroendocrinology - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Project B5: Manfred Hallschmid; PhD; Institute of Neuroendocrinology - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Kamila Jauch-Chara; MD; Medical Clinic 1 - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Hendrik Lehnert; Prof. of Internal Medicine, Endocrinology; Medical Clinic 1 - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Project B7: Olaf Joehren; Assistant Professor of Pharmacology; Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology (Director: Professor Dr. Peter Dominiak) - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Project B8: Jeroen Mesters; PhD, Biochemist; Institute of Biochemistry - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Rolf Hilgenfeld; PhD, Prof. of Biochemistry; Institute of Biochemistry - University of Luebeck; Germany,

Research Fellows:

Project  Z: Britta Kubera, Christian Hubold, Regina van Dyken, Sonja Entringer
Project B1: Anika Gallinger, Thorsten Biet, Mailin Doepkens
Project B2: Michaela Voss, André Schmoller, Harald Scholand-Engler,
Project B3: Wiebke Greggersen,"Eva Fassbinder, Sebastian Rudolf,
Project B4: Johanna Klement,
Project B5: Sebastian M. Schmid, Britta Wilms, Monique Friedrich
Project B7: Britta Brix

Associate Members:

Horst Lorenz Fehm; Professor of Internal Medicine, Endocrinology; Medical Clinic 1 - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Bernd Fischer; Professor of Mathematics; Institute of Mathematics - University of Luebeck; Germany, Homepage
Oliver Korn; Psychologist, M.A; Clinic of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Andreas Moser; Professor of Neurology and Neurochemistry; Clinic of Neurology - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Juergen Prestin; Professor of Mathematics; Institute of Mathematics - University of Luebeck; Germany, Homepage
Bernd Schultes; Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine; Medical Clinic 1 - University of Luebeck; Germany,
Matthias Conrad

Administration and Support Staff:

Sabine Wittnebel, Kirstin Nordhausen, Jutta Schwanbom


The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group is supported by an International Advisory Board:

  • Professor Dennis Baskin, Department of Veterans Affairs, Seattle, US, is one of the leading scientists in the obesity-research community.
  • Professor Luc Pellerin, Departement de Physiologie, Lausanne, Switzerland - who has enlightened the fundamental principal 'Energy on demand' in neuron-astrocyte metabolism during the last ten years.
  • Professor Mary Dallman, Department of Physiology, University of California - San Francisco, is group leader of the finest international group working on the topic 'chronic stress and metabolism'
  • Professor Brian M. Frier, The Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, is known as one of the European experts in the research field of 'Hypoglycaemia and neuroglucopenia'
  • Professor Daniel J. Cox, Department of Psychiatric Medicine, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville - is an American expert in the area 'Hypoglycaemia, cognitive dysfunction and behaviour'
  • Professor Robert Murison, Professor for Biological & Medical Psychology, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway - works on stress and its neuroendocrine regulation.


Publications - mainly for scientists

The conceptional papers on the 'Selfish-Brain'-Theory:



"The selfish brain: competition for energy resources"

A review published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews (28 [2004],143-180).

'This article has been listed as one of the most heavily-downloaded articles from the journal'

The abstract of the initial conceptional paper:

"The selfish brain: competition for energy resources"

A.Peters, U.Schweiger, L.Pellerin, C.Hubold, K.M.Oltmanns, M.Conrad, B.Schultes, J.Born, H.L.Fehm

The brain occupies a special hierarchical position in the organism. It is separated from the general circulation by the blood-brain barrier, has high energy consumption and a low energy storage capacity, uses only specific substrates, and it can record information from the peripheral organs and control them. Here we present a new paradigm for the regulation of energy supply within the organism. The brain gives priority to regulating its own adenosine triphosphate (ATP) concentration. In that postulate, the peripheral energy supply is only of secondary importance. The brain has two possibilities to ensure its energy supply: allocation or intake of nutrients. The term 'allocation' refers to the allocation of energy resources between the brain and the periphery. Neocortex and the limbic-hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (LHPA) system control the allocation and intake. In order to keep the energy concentrations constant, the following mechanisms are available to the brain: (1) high and low-affinity ATP-sensitive potassium channels measure the ATP concentration in neurons of the neocortex and generate a 'glutamate command' signal. This signal affects the brain ATP concentration by locally (via astrocytes) stimulating glucose uptake across the blood-brain barrier and by systemically (via the LHPA system) inhibiting glucose uptake into the muscular and adipose tissue. (2) Highaffinity mineralocorticoid and low-affinity glucocorticoid receptors determine the state of balance, i.e. the setpoint, of the LHPA system. This setpoint can permanently and pathologically be displaced by extreme stress situations (chronic metabolic and psychological stress, traumatization, etc.), by starvation, exercise, infectious diseases, hormones, drugs, substances of abuse, or chemicals disrupting the endocrine system. Disorders in the 'energy on demand' process or the LHPA-system can influence the allocation of energy and in so doing alter the body mass of the organism. In summary, the presented model includes a newly discovered 'principle of balance' of how pairs of high and low-affinity receptors can originate setpoints in biological systems. In this 'Selfish Brain Theory', the neocortex and limbic system play a central role in the pathogenesis of diseases such as anorexia nervosa and obesity. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

... to read an extract of the review a single copy of the article can be downloaded here and printed only for the reader's personal research and study. The article is posted with permission from Elsevier. See related content at Pubmed


"Causes of Obesity: Looking beyond the Hypothalamus"

Progress in Neurobiology (81 [2007],61-88).

link to: Elsevier's advance publication - or read the abstract right here.

The abstract of the second conceptional paper:

"Causes of Obesity: Looking beyond the Hypothalamus"

A. Peters, L. Pellerin, M.F. Dallman, K.M. Oltmanns, U. Schweiger, J. Born, H.L. Fehm

The brain takes a primary position in the organism. We present the novel view that the brain gives priority to controlling its own adenosine triphosphate (ATP) concentration. It fulfils this tenet by orchestrating metabolism in the organism. The brain activates an energy-on-request system that directly couples cerebral supply with cerebral need. The request system is hierarchically organized among the cerebral hemispheres, the hypo-thalamus, and peripheral somatomotor, autonomic-visceromotor, and the neuroendo-crine-secretomotor neurons. The system initiates allocative behavior (i.e. allocation of energy from body to brain), ingestive behavior (intake of energy from the immediate environment), or exploratory behavior (foraging in the distant environment). Cerebral projections coordinate all three behavioral strategies in such a way that the brain's energy supply is guaranteed continuously. In an ongoing learning process, the brain's request system adapts to various environmental conditions and stressful challenges. Disruption of a cerebral energy-request pathway is critical to the development of obesity: if the brain fails to receive sufficient energy from the peripheral body, it compensates for the undersupply by increasing energy intake from the immediate environment, leaving the body with a surplus. Obesity develops in the long term.

... download the entire review at Elsevier's advance publication.



"Build-ups in the supply chain of the brain:
on the neuroenergetic cause of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus"

A review published in Frontiers In Neuroenergetics.

connect to: Frontiers In Neuroenergetics - or read the abstract right here.

The abstract of the third conceptional paper:

"Build-ups in the supply chain of the brain"

Achim Peters and Dirk Langemann

Obesity and type 2 diabetes have become the major health problems in many industrialized countries. A few theoretical frameworks have been set up to derive the possible determinative cause of obesity. One concept views that food availability determines food intake, i.e. that obesity is the result of an external energy "push" into the body. Another one views that the energy milieu within the human organism determines food intake, i.e. that obesity is due to an excessive "pull" from inside the organism. Here we present the unconventional concept that a healthy organism is maintained by a "competent brain-pull" which serves systemic homeostasis, and that the underlying cause of obesity is "incompetent brain-pull", i.e. that the brain is unable to properly demand glucose from the body. We describe the energy fluxes from the environment, through the body, towards the brain with a mathematical "supply chain" model and test whether its predictions fit medical and experimental data sets from our and other research groups. In this way, we show data-based support of our hypothesis, which states that under conditions of food abundance incompetent brain-pull will lead to build-ups in the supply chain culminating in obesity and type 2 diabetes. In the same way, we demonstrate support of the related hypothesis, which states that under conditions of food deprivation a competent brain-pull mechanism is indispensable for the continuance of the brain´s high energy level. In conclusion, we took the viewpoint of integrative physiology and provided evidence for the necessity of brain-pull mechanisms for the benefit of health. Along these lines, our work supports recent molecular findings from the field of neuroenergetics and continues the work on the "Selfish Brain" theory dealing with the maintenance of the cerebral and peripheral energy homeostasis.

... download or read the entire review at Frontiers In Neuroenergetics.


See the complete list of original scientific project-related publications from 2004 to
by 'The Selfish Brain' Clinical Research Group.



Press - mainly for journalists and other interested individuals

Press releases, and also for laymen to understand background reports and articles from leading newspapers and magazines about the 'Selfish Brain' theory in the context of obesity:

Press Contact: The contact person for journalists is Professor Achim Peters.
Please use the press contact form on our flash site or mailto: achim.peters 'at' uk-sh.de



"The Selfish Brain - Events"

2nd Selfish Brain Conferences 2010

*** New Research on the Neurobiology of Ingestive Behaviour ***

May 2010 27th and 28th 2010 in Luebeck, Germany

Organisation: Hendrik Lehnert and Achim Peters





The Selfish Brain Conferences 2006

*** New Aspects on Obesity ***

February 23rd and 24th 2006 in Luebeck, Germany

Organisation: Achim Peters; Medical Clinic 1 / Ulrich Schweiger; Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy




The Selfish Brain Summerschool 2005

Summerschool 2005 of THE GERMAN NATIONAL ACADEMIC FOUNDATION in Salem, Germany : August 14th to 27th 2005.
Subject: The selfish-brain: Competition for energy resources
by Achim Peters, Luebeck and Ulrich Schweiger, Luebeck.
Participants: Students from the fields of medicine sociology, biology, mathematics.


The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group - Related Links

The research group is situated at the University of Luebeck, which is characterized by top research and academic teaching at the interface of sciences and clinical medicine. See also: University Clinic of Schleswig-Holstein. The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group is a research program of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG (German Research Foundation).

More related links:


Contact The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group

If you want to contact Achim Peters, leader of The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group, or any other member of The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group, or if you want to order a reprint of the initial 2004 review 'The selfish brain: competition for energy resources' the best way to do so is using the contact form on our website.

© 2005-2008 Achim Peters and The Selfish Brain Clinical Research Group
last update : february 22nd 2009

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