Hunger is notoriously complicated and questions abound: Why do the fed and fasted states of your body increase or decrease hunger? And how do the brain's reward pathways come into play why, as we seek out food, especially after an otherwise complete meal, do we prefer ice cream to lettuce?
"Psychologists have explained how cues from the environment and from the body interact, demonstrating that food and stimuli linked with food [such as a McDonald's sign] are rewarding and therefore promote hunger," explains Lowell. "It's clear that fasting increases the gain on how rewarding we find food to be, while a full stomach decreases this reward. But while this model has been extremely important in understanding the general features of the 'hunger system,' it's told us nothing about what's inside the 'black box' the brain's neural circuits that actually control hunger."
To deal with this particularly complex brain region a dense and daunting tangle of circuits resembling a wildly colorful Jackson Pollack painting the Lowell team is taking a step-by-step approach to find out how the messages indicating whether the body is in a state of feeding or fasting enter this system. Their search has been aided by a number of extremely powerful technologies, including rabies circuit mapping and channelrhodopsin-assisted circuit mapping, which enable their highly specific, neuron-by-neuron analysis of the region.
"By making use of these new technologies, we are able to follow the synapses, follow the axons, and see how it all works," says Lowell. "While this sounds like a relatively straightforward concept, it's actually been a huge challenge for the neuroscience field."
In this new paper, first authors Michael Krashes, PhD, and Bhavik Shah, PhD, postdoctoral fellows in the Lowell lab, employed rabies circuit mapping, a technology in which a modified version of the rabies vir
|Contact: Bonnie Prescott|
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center