Eppendorf & Science Prize Why We Behave Differently When We Are Hungry
The American scientist Amber L. Alhadeff, Ph.D., Principal Investigator at the Monell Chemical Senses Center and the University of Pennsylvania, USA has won the 2021 Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology for her work on the gut-brain control of hunger circuits.
Hamburg/Germany — Amber Alhadeff is the 20th recipient of the annual Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology, which is awarded jointly by Eppendorf and the journal Science. Alhadeff’s research has revealed how hunger-sensitive neurons in the brain receive signals from the gastrointestinal tract, and how they influence food intake and other survival behaviors. Her work helps to answer such questions as why we behave differently when we have not eaten, how we know when to stop eating, how foods we eat influence our brain activity, and why we perceive the world differently when we are hungry or full. “I am extremely honored to receive this award for my research accomplishments,” said Alhadeff. “It is a tremendous jumpstart to my independent research career and a huge motivator for my lab.”
“Amber Alhadeff described in a brilliant essay how neurons encoding hunger are modulated by what we eat and how they can change our behavior,” explained Dr. Peter Stern, Senior Editor at the journal Science and Chairman of the Prize Jury. “Her research aids our understanding of how hunger changes our general perception of the world, and of the mechanisms underlying neural control of food intake.”
Hunger’s Role in Perception and Behavior
Whether we are hungry or full changes our perception of the world. It can color our mood, affect our ability to make decisions and even influence our willingness to take risks. However, while many of the mechanisms that underlie the neural control of food intake are studied and discerned, much less is known about how perception of other sensations from within the body — interoceptive signals like pain, for example — influence neural activity in the brain’s hunger circuits, and how this shapes behavior.
“Most of us feel hunger every day, often multiple times a day, but we don’t often consciously think about everything that is happening in the body to generate this sensation and when we eat, to make it go away,” said Alhadef. Using a mouse model, she evaluated how neural circuits activated by hunger influence behavioral responses to pain and discovered a hypothalamic-to-hindbrain circuit that suppressed the sensation of pain in hungry mice, enabling them to seek food when it would otherwise be challenging to do so.
To better understand how sensory stimuli affect hunger circuits, Alhadeff used in vivo neural imaging and found that different macronutrients, such as fat and sugar, in the gut rapidly communicate with the brain via a gut-brain pathway. According to Alhadeff, these findings highlight the role of an understudied pathway and provide insight into how different nutrients affect our brains and behavior.