The oxytocin system in sugar and alcohol intake

Oxytocin is well recognised for its role in labour, lactation and social interaction, however, it’s also known to be involved in regulating fluid and salt intake. We have discovered a population of neurons that express the receptor for oxytocin and are located in the parabrachial nucleus of the hindbrain, which robustly suppress water and saline (NaCl) intake, but not food intake. We’re interested in investigating whether these neurons may also play a role in suppressing sugar, alcohol and non-caloric saccharin intake, which may suggest a role in addictive-like behaviours.

We will use genetically modified mice that allow us to selectively manipulate this neuronal population by techniques such as optogenetics and DREADDs (designer receptors), and use behavioural paradigms such as binge drinking.

Aims

  • Investigate the effect of activating and inactivating oxytocin receptor-expressing neurons in the parabrachial nucleus on fluid intake, including water, alcohol, sugar and saccharin.
  • Investigate the effect of activating and inactivating oxytocin receptor-expressing neurons in the parabrachial nucleus on binge-drinking behaviour.
  • Assess neural activity of oxytocin-receptor expressing neurons in the parabrachial nucleus following intake of different fluids.
  • Map the neural circuits involved in water and salt intake.

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