The hypothalamus region of the brain is an important regulator of metabolism, body temperature and food intake. Within this region, a group of cells can detect changes in sugar levels in the body and can send signals to the body to regulate eating. Dr Antonio Gonzalez leads research studying the mechanisms in the brain that can sense sugar levels and how the brain can help control appetite and body weight.
To investigate these ideas, research has recently concentrated on neurons know as orexin which are inactivated by eating. However, if these neurons are completely inactivated, overeating can occur. Following on from this work, it was demonstrated that the number of specific groups of neurons within the hypothalamus do not change in response to a high fat diet. However, genetic obesity did display differences in these numbers, indicating that not all hypothalamic neurons involved in the regulation of energy balance are sensitive to the effects of diet.
Having the knowledge that some cells in the hypothalamus were affected by obesity; the next question asked was whether the connectivity between these cells was similarly affected. Recent research demonstrated that it could be the anatomical differences between groups of cells in the hypothalamus that could govern feeding behaviour especially under stressful or anxious situations.
This work has shown that the links between the brain, its molecular signals and eating are complex. These signals not only govern whether an individual is feeling full or not, but also that the cells themselves can be responsible for feeding behaviour, under both normal and stressful situations.
This research was conducted by Dr Antonio Gonzalez and collaborators.
Some of this research was funded by a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship.