Food intake and obesity:
Obesity has become a major problem for human society. It takes a measurable toll on health measures such as diabetes, hypertension, and longevity and a less measured but arguably greater toll in psychological factors like quality of life and self esteem. Animal models can help us dissect the interaction between genes and environment in eating behavior. One project investigates how economic costs imposed on food affect total intake (demand) and pattern of eating (large vs small meals) in mice. We are studying mice of various genetic backgrounds, including those with an obese phenotype.
Other projects investigate the neural signals that may be responsible for eating, primarily by examining the effects on food intake of drugs that target specific chemical systems. Included among these are drugs that act at serotonin, melanocortin, and endocannabinoid receptors.
One series of projects is investigating the role of cues associated with nicotine self-administration (in rats), and in particular taste, in maintaining drug-related behavior. A related project is investigating the phenomenon of weight gain following cessation of nicotine. In collaboration with Dr Peris (College of Pharmacy), we are studying neurotransmitter release in relation to alcohol self-administration, using an operant protocol.