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Microstructure and macrostructure of low protein-induced feeding patterns

Principal supervisor: Dr James McCutcheon, Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour

Industry partner: Campden Instruments

Project Title: Microstructure and macrostructure of low protein-induced feeding patterns

University of registration: University of Leicester

Project outline:

Understanding how particular diets affect eating and drinking behaviour is a fundamental biological question as well as one with huge implications for health. Of particular recent interest are diets that are low in protein as these have been implicated in obesity and poor health in the elderly, although why this is the case is very poorly understood. Thus, the overall aim of this proposal is to determine how low protein diets affect patterns of food intake over different time scales and to identify underlying mechanisms.

The study of diet-induced processes relies on animal models, which ideally allow intake to be carefully controlled and measured. In parallel, the ability to record or manipulate physiological systems is vital. This proposal will combine Dr. McCutcheon’s extensive experience studying how the brain controls feeding behaviour with Campden Instruments’ expertise in designing and manufacturing apparatus for rodent behaviour.

The two principal and complementary objectives of the proposal are to determine how the microstructure (Obj. 1) and macrostructure (Obj. 2) of feeding are modulated by low protein diets. Both objectives will, in parallel, involve measuring neural activity in vivo using electrophysiology and fibre photometry, to enable cellular mechanisms to be ascertained. The primary studies will take place using the existing standard research equipment in Dr. McCutcheon’s lab. These findings will be supplemented by the enhanced precision of measurements made possible by the technological advances in apparatus that will arise via the partnership with Campden.

Obj. 1: Microstructure of nutrient-specific feeding induced by low protein diets

Microstructural analysis of feeding is a technique that involves inspecting the pattern of licking produced by rodents when feeding on a liquid reward. In-depth analysis of this pattern provides detail on the palatability (e.g. positive taste reward) of a solution as well as an animal’s motivation or desire to consume it. Understanding how the microstructure of licking for different foods, tastes, or nutrients changes in response to being on a low protein diet will be a major step forward in determining why these low protein diets shift feeding behaviour.

Obj. 2: Macrostructure of feeding induced by low protein diets

Analysis of meal patterns (e.g. number of meals, meal duration, and meal intake) can give critical information about the mechanisms that underlie changes in food intake. Currently, little information is available about how low protein diets shape feeding behaviour over these long time scales. However, performing these studies is hampered by the inability to get individual data when rodents are group-housed.

Both objectives will benefit greatly from the partnership with Campden as our planned technological innovations will increase both the quality and quantity of the data we obtain (see later section for details).

Contact: Dr James McCutcheon, University of Leicester