Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., September 30, 2015—A Williams College professor has been awarded a three-year $361,539 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct research into how the brain controls food intake. Matt Carter, assistant professor of biology, will study how neurons in the brain interact with each other to control feelings of hunger or satiation.
Using optogenetic techniques, Carter and his laboratory students will stimulate agouti-related protein (AgRP) neurons, brain cells that are active when mammals are hungry, in mice. They will also stimulate calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP) neurons, cells that become active the more sated a subject feels. The research will focus on how these two groups of neurons are connected to and interact with each other.
Despite knowing the location of these neurons in the brain, surprisingly little is known about how they anatomically and functionally interact.
“Many people don’t appreciate the degree to which the brain generates feelings of hunger and fullness. They mistakenly think that their stomach ultimately regulates when they are hungry or full, but actually it is these two sets of neurons in the brain,” Carter explained. “Our research will target each set, and we will study different situations during which it is favorable or unfavorable to eat.”
Carter said the results of the studies would lead to a greater understanding of how the neurons work separately and also if they work together in certain conditions.
“Greater understanding of how these neurons interact together could contribute to a way to induce appetite suppression to combat obesity or how to activate neurons to create hunger in people who are malnourished or have lost weight due to side-effects of medication, such as chemotherapy drugs,” Carter added.
Carter expects the work to generate multiple papers and theses from his students, whom he will also take to scientific conferences to discuss their work.
“The undergraduate research component of this study is something that really attracted the attention of the NIH, and I anticipate that 12-15 students will be working in the lab with me over the next three years as we conduct this study,” he said.
Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.