Investigating the role of corticosterone in meal anticipatory behaviour, metabolism and glucosetolerance

Student thesis: Phd


Daily rhythms in physiology and behaviour are orchestrated by theautonomously rhythmic cells of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).Restricting food intake to the rest phase of nocturnal rodents, leads to thedevelopment of meal anticipatory behaviour, corticosterone and bodytemperature. Given that lesions to the SCN fail to abolish meal anticipation, asecond oscillator of unknown location, referred to as the food-entrainableoscillator (FEO) is thought to exist. Although the site of the FEO is unknown,several hypothalamus nuclei, including the dorsomedial hypothalamus(DMH) are thought to play a role in meal anticipation. Given thatadrenalectomy is reported to abolish meal anticipation, an intact HPA axis isalso thought to contribute to the functioning of the FEO. Some forms ofobesity are characterised by high basal levels of circulating corticosterone. Inaddition, limited access to high fat diet, fails to induce the development ofrobust meal anticipation in rats.During our initial studies, the effect of a standard and 45% high fat diet onthe development of meal anticipatory behaviour and hypothalamic c-Fosexpression were investigated. Restricted access to high fat diet led toattenuation of meal anticipation compared to those fed standard diet. Thiswas concurrent with a failure to develop an anticipatory rise in DMH c-Fosexpression. A meal anticipatory rise in corticosterone is thought to benecessary for the presence of meal anticipation as well as adaptation ofmetabolism to daily restricted feeding. In the next set of studies, weconfirmed that restricted access to standard diet leads to the development ofa meal anticipatory rise in plasma corticosterone. In contrast we observed adramatic post-anticipatory rise in plasma corticosterone in rats givenrestricted access to the 45% high fat diet. We hypothesised that the highcorticosterone levels resulting from high fat diet were a contributing factor tothe lack of meal anticipation in high fat fed rats. With the aid of apharmacokinetic study, a suitable experiment was designed for daily dosingof a potent glucocorticoid receptor antagonist, RU486, with the aim ofrescuing meal anticipation in high fat fed rats. Interestingly, treatment withRU486 successfully rescued meal anticipation in high fat fed rats, butattenuated meal anticipation in standard diet restricted fed rats. In the finalseries of studies the effect of diet and feeding regime on glucose toleranceand metabolism were investigated. High fat feeding was found to reduceglucose tolerance in both ad lib and restricted fed rats, with RU486 treatmentimproving glucose tolerance in a time dependant manner. Restricted accessto food was found to induce post satiation lipogenesis in both standard dietfed and to a lesser extent in high fat fed rats, an effect which may bebeneficial in reducing obesity. Overall the results provide further insight intothe complex role of corticosterone in promoting or preventing mealanticipatory behaviour. An anticipatory rise in plasma corticosterone isrequired for meal anticipation, as repeated daily dosing of RU486 inhibit mealanticipation. The high basal levels of corticosterone in high fat fed rats mayprevent meal anticipation, insulin secretion and post-satiation lipogenesiswhich may in fact be a homeostatic mechanism to prevent obesity.Nonetheless, treatment with RU486 rescues behavioural meal anticipationand glucose tolerance.
Date of Award31 Dec 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHugh Piggins (Supervisor)


  • glucose tolerance
  • HPA axis
  • RU486
  • High fat feeding
  • Meal anticipation
  • Food entrainable oscillator
  • hypothalamus
  • Circadian
  • Corticosterone

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