Balanced intake of nutritional amino acids is a key determinant of fitness across animal phyla including Drosophila, mice and humans. Imbalanced protein intake have severe implications for health, lifespan and fecundity. To maintain protein homeostasis, animals evolved physiological, neuronal and behavioral strategies that secure balanced intake of dietary amino acids. Altogether, these strategies give rise to protein-specific appetite where deficiency of a dietary amino acids subsequently triggers increased consumption of food sources rich in protein.
Drosophila feeding behavior, like many animals including humans, comprises hierarchically-organized behavioral sequences that are tightly regulated by the protein state of the fruit fly. These behavioral sequences include meals that are organized into feeding bursts composed of multiple sips of the food source (the feeding microstructure). It has been shown that deprivation of dietary amino acids specifically modulate the duration of the feeding bursts to trigger compensatory consumption of protein-rich sources. However, the modulatory pathways and neural circuits that ensure protein homeostasis by regulating the feeding microstructure with such specificity remain elusive.
In the proposed project we aim to identify and characterize modulatory pathways and neural circuits controlling protein-specific appetite. To achieve this, we will combine high-resolution behavioral analysis of feeding with unprecedented neurogenetic toolkit of Drosophila to monitor and manipulate activity in defined subsets of neurons. By using anatomical and functional neural-circuit mapping strategies, we will provide a circuit-level explanation for the regulation of behavioral sequences underlying protein-specific appetite.
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