A new study will examine the brain processes controlling hunger in birds in order to better understand how stress experienced during development in the egg affects chicks’ appetite after they hatch, according to an announcement from The Roslin Institute in Scotland.
Researchers hope to discover whether the development of brain circuits linked to hunger and satiety are affected by stress hormones in early life, the announcement said.
Findings from the £500,000 project, funded by the U.K.'s Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council, could help inform welfare management in the egg and poultry industries, Roslin said.
Studies of quail — which are well developed and active upon hatching — will investigate whether stress during development causes misregulation in their brain circuits, affecting appetite regulation, the announcement said.
The results will offer valuable insights on stress, which is known to have lifelong consequences for birds and has been linked to survival, breeding success, productivity and health of offspring, according to the institute.
The Roslin researchers will investigate the effects the corticosterone stress hormone has in fertilized quail eggs, mimicking the hormone signal stressed mother birds deposit into their eggs.
“This research will provide unique insights into the brain mechanisms that regulate appetite in newly hatched chicks and shed light on the mechanisms by which early-life stress may program feeding circuits in the brain. Our findings could lead to improvements in the industrial management and welfare of eggs and chicks and lead to significant economic benefits,” said Simone Meddle, Roslin Institute professor of behavioral neuroendocrinology.
Impact of stress
According to the institute, the researchers will study embryos and chicks to compare the biological pathways for hunger and satiety in the brains of birds that have been exposed to stress with those that have not. The researchers will also investigate whether early-life stress affects feeding behavior in newly hatched chicks.
The team will study gene activity to examine whether the key hormone and neural circuits that control appetite are changed in embryos and chicks that have experienced early-life stress.
Electrical impulses in brain circuits linked to feeding will be recorded to investigate whether early-life stress changes cells’ sensitivity to glucose, which would affect the body’s metabolism — i.e., how much energy it needs to function, the institute said.
Glucose levels in the brains of birds are much higher than in mammals, indicating that glucose regulation may be more important in birds than in other species.