Food quality can re-wire young appetite control

December 21, 2007

A University of Alberta researcher has discovered evidence that suggests the part of our brain that controls appetite changes along with our diets during infancy - a fact that could lead to a greater understanding of childhood obesity.

William Colmers, a pharmacology professor and AHFMR Medical Scientist, monitored brain signals in rats in an effort to discover if appetite-control mechanisms in the brain change between the time a rat is weaned and the time it begins to forage for its own food.

His findings reveal, for the first time, that the area of the brain that tells us if we are hungry or full is 'plastic' - that it adapts to changing food sources at least once in our lives.

Colmers and his team made the discovery by measuring the sensitivity of certain types of brain cells to hormones that tell us we're hungry and hormones that tell us when to stop eating. At the age of about three weeks, some brain cells became markedly less sensitive to the hormone that tells them to eat.

"When you're a baby, all you need to know is that you're full, because the quality of the food is a given. You're eating mother's milk. It's all the same," said Colmers. "But when they start to forage, they have to start assessing the quality of the food they are eating because they need to know what they are full on; it's a different thing from being full on mother's milk."

That's where sensitivity to the 'stop-eating' hormone comes into play. Colmers says the research results suggest that the hormone "is involved in assessing the quality of the food you've eaten."

"This suggests that at the time of weaning there is a reorganization of the brain that allows you to assess the quality of the food you're eating as you begin to supplement your diet of mother's milk with other foods," said Colmers.

"The important implication of this is that this area of the brain is plastic, that it can change with time - the fundamentals change with time, and it means that at least at one point in your life it has the ability to change with the environment."

"That means appetite control might indeed be vulnerable to changes in the environment. It plays into the whole story about childhood obesity."

Results of the study are published in the current edition of the journal Neuron.

Colmers' research is funded by the Alberta Heritage Foundaiton for Medical Research and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research through a new emerging team grant -- Colmers leads the neurobiology of obesity research team.

Source: University of Alberta

Explore further: New species of early anthropoid primate found amid Libyan strife

Related Stories

Lungfishes are not airheads

November 18, 2015

It's November, a month to ruminate on all of the things we are thankful for while we ruminate copious amounts of food (at least in the United States). I've been contemplating all of the things that I am thankful for, besides ...

Without grandmothers we might not be here at all

November 17, 2015

As adults, we're often nostalgic for our childhood. A time when life seemed so much simpler. When we were free from the hassles of money, pressures of work and responsibilities of family and care.

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.