Animals receive environmental information, relay that information to the central nervous system (CNS) and either initiate or abstain from a particular behavior. To figure out how animals respond to changing environmental circumstances, it is necessary to understand the formation and function of the neural circuits that regulate the behaviors, including how these circuits are modulated. Since there is a link between fat signals and motivated eating behavior, it is possible that signals from fat tissue will be key players in regulating CNS function and a variety of behaviors. The Carney laboratory uses the model animal Drosophila melanogaster, which is genetically similar to humans, to figure out how changes in fat signals, via their interactions with the CNS, alter the behavior of animals. They have shown that molecules produced by fatty tissue influence behaviors, including those important for reproduction. Currently this lab is using genetic and molecular approaches to determine how changes in the expression of a novel, candidate adipokine (i.e., fat-derived hormone) affect brain function and reproductive behavior. As the occurrence of obesity rises worldwide, it becomes increasingly important to understand exactly how signals from fat tissue affect physiology and behavior. These findings will provide a better understanding of neural and fat signaling interactions as well as a novel framework for investigating modulatory effects of fat on behavior. Through the research and outreach efforts associated with this work, graduate and undergraduate students, particularly those currently underrepresented in STEM fields, will be trained in experimental design and critical thinking skills. Some of these students will utilize these skills as professional scientists, while others will use the acquired knowledge and skills as physicians and in other public health arenas, greatly expanding the reach of this scientific training. Additional efforts will engage K-12 students in science via interactive presentations in our community.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)
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Diane M. Witt
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Texas A&M Research Foundation
College Station
United States
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