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The Warsaw Voice » Other » December 2, 2009
Neurobiology
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Stress, Rats and Diet
December 2, 2009   
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A Cracow neurobiologist has received a cash boost from the Foundation for Polish Science to study the impact of stress on eating habits. Her research involves experiments on rats with a view to developing a drug to treat obesity, anorexia and other eating disorders in humans.

In her experiments on rats, Anna Błasiak, a neurobiologist at the Institute of Zoology of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, studies the impact of a newly discovered protein, relaxin-3, on brain cells responsible for obesity and anorexia. She hopes one day her research will contribute to developing a drug for stress-related eating disorders.

Błasiak is studying the flow of current through the membranes of rat nerve cells involved in stress response under in vitro conditions. These are electrophysiological experiments conducted on single cells isolated from the brain.

Bad eating habits
Why do some people develop eating disorders when they are stressed? One such disorder is obesity, a lifestyle disease that is reaching epidemic proportions these days. At the other end of the spectrum is the growing number of people suffering from anorexia, bulimia and many other behavioral disorders, Błasiak says.

According to researchers, stress has a serious impact on eating-related disorders. In animals, nervousness can be linked to poor environmental conditions, the presence of predators or insufficient food. This activates certain cells in the brain that are responsible for eating habits. Are humans subject to a similar mechanism?

Answering this question could become easier thanks to research on relaxin-3, a recently discovered neuropeptide and a protein from the insulin family. Found in the brain of humans, mice and rats, relaxin-3 has a role to play in regulating food intake, Błasiak says. Her research, which involves electrophysiological experiments on rats, is designed to determine how relaxin-3 affects nerve cells. This electrophysiological research is supplemented by neuroanatomical research that aims to identify the nerve routes involved in regulating food intake.

During her Ph.D. studies, Błasiak worked on the neuronal mechanism of daily rhythm regulation in mammals, with the help of extracellular recordings of the electric activity of rat neurons under in vitro conditions.

Stress control
Błasiak is trying to find out how the negative impact of stress can be halted or even reversed. To this end, she must identify the neurotransmitters released by stress-sensitive cells and examine them to see if these are released into structures linked to eating. Then she must use the appropriate neurotransmitters on the cells of centers related to food intake and observe their response.

Błasiak is working under the supervision of Prof. Marian Lewandowski at the Jagiellonian University. She is conducting her research in consultation with experts at the Howard Florey Institute in Melbourne, Australia, the world's largest center of research on relaxin-3.

In 2005, Błasiak's work was named the best research project by a young scientist at the 7th International Conference of the Polish Neuroscience Society. In 2009, she received a grant under the Foundation for Polish Science's Start program, one of the most prestigious awards for young scientists in Poland.
Piotr Bartosz
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