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Status: 06.06.2020 17:04:19
Within the Junior Research Group of Neurocircuit Development and Function (NDF), which officially started in February 2020, the researchers are engaged in an understanding of how neural circuits involved in the control of energy homeostasis develop and function within complex networks in the brain. Specifically, the members of the Lippert lab want to understand how maternal nutrition and altered maternal metabolism can negatively impact the proper formation and function of these brain circuits and resulting in the potential for an earlier onset of brain-related diseases.
Throughout our lifespan, our central nervous system responds to various elements of our surroundings. One of the strongest influencers to the function of our brain comes from the food we eat, with many consequences resulting from an unhealthy diet. With the numbers of individuals affected by diabetes, obesity and obesity-related diseases rapidly increasing, it is crucial to understand how our diet change the proper function of our brain, and as a result the risk metabolically-related diseases.
One period of extreme vulnerability to external influences like our diet, occurs before we even have control over what we eat. That is to say, our mother’s nutritional and metabolic status can influence the proper development of the brain. It has been shown that maternal obesity and excessive maternal weight gain can lead to an elevated risk of diabetes and obesity in children. However, even more surprising is the correlation between maternal metabolic states and the risk of the development of cognitive diseases such as ADHD. These links suggest an overall influence of an unhealthy diet on the development and lifelong function of the brain.
A component of the circuitry that is required 1) for normal energy balance and 2) is perturbed in the energy-regulating center of the brain, called the hypothalamus, is known as the melanocortin system. This system consists of multiple proteins, called G-protein coupled receptors, as well as associated peptides which increase or decrease their function, namely agouti-related peptide (AgRP) and proopiomelanocortin (POMC). Genetic mutations in parts of this system results in extreme obesity in humans. Interestingly, previous work in rodent models has shown that an unhealthy maternal diet can negative regulate the connectivity and function of this melanocortin circuitry within the hypothalamus. More recent work, has also linked the melanocortin system itself with neuronal networks involved in reward and addiction.
With a recent study assessing 1 million human births showing that more than 50% of women in the USA and Europe surpass the recommended body weight guidelines during pregnancy, the effect of this altered maternal nutrition on the baby’s brain needs to be understood (Goldstein RF et al. BMC Med 2018).
The scientists in the Junior Research Group of Neurocircuit Development and Function will assess the effects of an altered maternal diet on development of neural circuits with the help of rodent models. In parallel to this, researchers in the Lippert lab will aim to decipher in detail the interactions of the brain’s metabolic circuitry with other critical brain networks. Through understanding more about the food-intake regulating networks and the role of nutrition in the formation of these networks, we can determine critical changes to the brain caused by dietary stresses and uncover new links between dietary choices and cognitive function.
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