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Selected hormonal and neurotransmitter mechanisms regulating feed intake in sheep

  • J. L. Sartin (a1), J. A. Daniel (a2), B. K. Whitlock (a3) and R. R. Wilborn (a4)

Appetite control is a major issue in normal growth and in suboptimal growth performance settings. A number of hormones, in particular leptin, activate or inhibit orexigenic or anorexigenic neurotransmitters within the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, where feed intake regulation is integrated. Examples of appetite regulatory neurotransmitters are the stimulatory neurotransmitters neuropeptide Y (NPY), agouti-related protein (AgRP), orexin and melanin-concentrating hormone and the inhibitory neurotransmitter, melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH). Examination of messenger RNA (using in situ hybridization and real-time PCR) and proteins (using immunohistochemistry) for these neurotransmitters in ruminants has indicated that physiological regulation occurs in response to fasting for several of these critical genes and proteins, especially AgRP and NPY. Moreover, intracerebroventricular injection of each of the four stimulatory neurotransmitters can increase feed intake in sheep and may also regulate either growth hormone, luteinizing hormone, cortisol or other hormones. In contrast, both leptin and MSH are inhibitory to feed intake in ruminants. Interestingly, the natural melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) antagonist, AgRP, as well as NPY can prevent the inhibition of feed intake after injection of endotoxin (to model disease suppression of appetite). Thus, knowledge of the mechanisms regulating feed intake in the hypothalamus may lead to mechanisms to increase feed intake in normal growing animals and prevent the wasting effects of severe disease in animals.

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