Exploring the brains behind metabolism

A Flinders University researcher is about to begin a three-year study to understand the basic science of a neuron group producing a particular substance in the brain which regulates the metabolism.

Research Fellow Youichirou Ootsuka (pictured) has received a $568,784 grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council to investigate the mechanisms by which orexin – a neurotransmitter which stimulates wakefulness, energy expenditure and appetite – influences the body’s metabolic system.

Using a special technique known as optogenetics in an animal model, Dr Ootsuka will shine optic fibres into the area of the brain where orexin-producing neurons are located to control their activity and to see how bodily function responds.

The information will provide important fundamental clues into how the neurons coordinate appetite, wakefulness and body temperature, he said.

“The orexin neuron group is located in a very specific and discrete section of the brain,” Dr Ootsuka, based in the Department of Human Physiology, said.

“While it’s widely known for controlling wakefulness and appetite, scientists don’t really know how it integrates our behaviour, such as eating, with our bodily state, such as body temperature,” he said.

“So if we can find out some basic information on the integrative function of the neuron group in regulating the metabolism it could provide a basic clue for clinical strategies to treat certain diseases,” he said.

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