Food quality can re-wire young appetite control

Dec 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: Education, breastfeeding and gender affect the microbes on our bodies

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Quantifying sensory data

Apr 02, 2014

Bite into a juicy pear or a spicy hot pepper, and thousands of electrical impulses race to your brain. Taste buds pick up signals for basic taste qualities like sweet and sour, and your tongue also senses ...

The promise and peril of nanotechnology

Mar 26, 2014

Scientists at Northwestern University have found a way to detect metastatic breast cancer by arranging strands of DNA into spherical shapes and using them to cover a tiny particle of gold, creating a "nano-flare" ...

Cholesterol transporter structure decoded

Mar 21, 2014

The word "cholesterol" is directly linked in most people's minds with high-fat foods, worrying blood test results, and cardiovascular diseases. However, despite its bad reputation, cholesterol is essential ...

Recommended for you

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

3 hours ago

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

New pain relief targets discovered

14 hours ago

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

Building 'smart' cell-based therapies

15 hours ago

A Northwestern University synthetic biology team has created a new technology for modifying human cells to create programmable therapeutics that could travel the body and selectively target cancer and other ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Diagnosing and treating autism

April is National Autism Awareness Month. The Child Development Clinic at Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) provides comprehensive assessment for pediatric patients with developmental delays or disabilities, including ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

'Exotic' material is like a switch when super thin

(Phys.org) —Ever-shrinking electronic devices could get down to atomic dimensions with the help of transition metal oxides, a class of materials that seems to have it all: superconductivity, magnetoresistance ...