Obesity and its comorbid disorders are estimated to affect more than one-third of adults in the U.S. alone, and is rapidly growing as a worldwide health concern. The dramatic rise in obesity has underscored the importance of understanding the neural mechanisms involved in energy homeostasis and visceral functions such as feeding and digestion. While diet-induced obesity (DIO) and long-term exposure to high-fat diet (HFD) have been shown to modulate neurotransmission in many areas of the brainstem, including vago-vagal neurocircuits, we have demonstrated previously that even acute exposure to HFD modulates vagal neurocircuits. Specifically, short term exposure to HFD (3-5 days) modulates glutamatergic transmission in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV), increasing synaptic NMDA currents, DMV neuronal excitability and, in turn, increases gastric tone and motility. Recent studies from our lab have also suggested that activation of astrocytes or extrasynaptic NMDA receptors may be involved in this modulation. The mechanism that results in this increased NMDA current following acute HFD exposure has, however, not been elucidated. Previous studies have suggested that increased synaptic NMDA receptor activation may occur subsequent to activation of extrasynaptic NMDA receptors, which causes sufficient local depolarization to remove the Mg2+ block on synaptic NMDA receptors. Furthermore, previous studies suggest that astrocytic release of glutamate may responsible for this extrasynaptic NMDA receptor activation.
The aim of this study is to test the hypothesis that, acute HFD exposure induces the release of astrocytic glutamate that activates extrasynaptic and synaptic NMDA-R activation in the DVC.
Aim 1 will investigate the hypothesis that, following acute HFD exposure, astrocytic gliotransmitter release increases NMDA receptor activation following acute HFD exposure.
Aim 2 will investigate the hypothesis that, acute HFD-induced increase in synaptic NMDA currents is dependent upon astrocytic glutamate release. The potential to examine plasticity in brainstem neurocircuitry resulting from alterations in nutrition brings with it the opportunity to uncover the mechanistic basis for brain-gut homeostasis and regulation of feeding behavior which, in turn, may provide insights into the dysregulation of these pathways which leads to impaired energy balance and obesity.

Public Health Relevance

Increased caloric intake is strongly correlated with the development of obesity and associated co-morbid disorders such as Type II diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease as well as being associated with dysregulation of autonomic neurocircuits involved in the control of visceral functions, such as feeding and digestion. Our recent studies suggest that acute exposure to a high fat diet alters glutamatergic signaling in vagal brainstem neurocircuits which subsequently increases gastric motility. This project uses in vivo recordings of gastric tone and motility and in vitro whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology to elucidate the mechanism that allows the brain to modulate gastric function in response to changes in diet composition.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZDK1)
Program Officer
Densmore, Christine L
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Pennsylvania State University
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code