Headline for Featured Item #1 Neuroscience Lab Investigates Link between Fear and Appetite - Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
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Neuroscience Lab Investigates Link between Fear and Appetite

April 09, 2013

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – During the past few years, the laboratory of Dr. Riccardo Mozzachiodi, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, has been studying how the brain responds to fear.

Recently, the research team led by Dr. Mozzachiodi looked into the cellular mechanisms by which fear affects the brain’s ability to make decisions. In particular, Dr. Mozzachiodi examined the effects of fear on the decision to eat, using the brain of a marine snail, whose nerve cells functions are similar to those of the human brain. Dr. Mozzachiodi found that, when the brain experiences fear, cell activity in the part of the brain that decides to eat reduces function for at least 24 hours.

“The brain becomes more concerned with protecting itself and disregards other functions, like eating,” said Dr. Mozzachiodi. Dr. Mozzachiodi found that within 72 hours of being frightened, the snail recovered its decision-making ability.

“In essence, the brain had to budget its function,” he said. “While it was afraid, the cells that were more active were those dealing with awareness of danger. This defensive state came with the price of reducing other functions, including eating.”

Dr. Mozzachiodi says this neuroscience research can help us gain a better understanding of the relationship between fear and appetitive behaviors. He calls the study a “building block for further biomedical research” in areas such as post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, and mood disorders.

The study was recently published under the title “Effects of Aversive Stimuli Beyond Defensive Neural Circuits: Reduced Excitability in an Identified Neuron Critical for Feeding in Aplysia” in the January issue of “Learning & Memory,” which is ranked within the top 25 percent of journals in the area of neuroscience. The study, sponsored by the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Texas Research Development Fund, is authored by two graduate students (Maria Shields-Johnson and John Hernandez), two undergraduate students (Cody Torno and Katherine Adams) and by Dr. Mozzachiodi’s collaborator Dr. Marcy Wainwright.   

 

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