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BBSRC award for study on appetite regulation in birds

Congratulations to Professors Gareth Leng (Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences) and Simone Meddle (Roslin Institute) who have been awarded a grant by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to study the brain processes that control hunger in birds.

The aim is to better understand how stress experienced during development in the egg affects chicks’ appetite after they hatch with the hope that findings from the £500,000 project could inform welfare management in the egg and poultry industries.

Because the brain circuits linked to hunger and stress are very similar in birds and animals, a better understanding of how these circuits are affected by stress hormones in early life is likely to have general relevance.

Appetite regulation

Studies of quail – which are well developed and active upon hatching – will investigate whether stress during development causes misregulation in their brain circuits, impacting appetite regulation.

The results will offer valuable insights on stress, which is known to have lifelong consequences for birds, linked to survival, breeding success, productivity, and health of offspring.

Researchers will investigate the effects that a stress hormone, corticosterone, has in fertilised quail eggs, mimicking the hormone signal deposited by stressed mother birds into their eggs.

Impact of stress

Researchers will study embryos and chicks to compare the biological pathways for hunger and satiety in the brains of birds that have been exposed to stress with those that have not. They will also investigate whether early life stress affects feeding behaviour in newly hatched chicks.

The team will study gene activity to examine whether the key hormone and neural circuits that control appetite are changed in embryos and chicks that have experienced early life stress.

Electrical signales in brain circuits linked to feeding will be recorded to investigate whether early life stress changes cells’ sensitivity to glucose, which would impact on the body’s metabolism – how much energy it needs to function.

 

This research will provide unique insights into the brain mechanisms that regulate appetite in newly hatched chicks and shed light on the mechanisms by which early life stress may program feeding circuits in the brain. Our findings could lead to improvements in the industrial management and welfare of eggs and chicks, and lead to significant economic benefits

Professor Simone Meddle, Professor of Behavioural Neuroendocrinology, Roslin Institute

Further Information

Prof Gareth Leng lab profile 

Prof Simone Meddle lab profile