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Supply and Demand

How the nervous system increases the mother's food intake during reproduction

01 January 2021

Supply and Demand

From stomach twinges in stressful situations to increased hunger at the thought of food, we all intuitively feel the close connection between the brain and the digestive system. Neurons innervating the gut, known as the enteric nervous system, control gut behaviour and enable communication with the brain, especially important for adapting our appetite and nutritional intake to our energetic needs. During reproduction, females of many species need more resources, and research in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) shows how the gut responds to these higher demands. In female flies, hormonal changes after mating affect enteric neurons, causing them to increase release of a small protein, myosuppressin, which relaxes gut muscles; this enables the flies’ stomach-like crop (pictured, with neurons in red) to expand more, helping them to acquire food faster. Comparatively simple, the fly system is a useful first step towards understanding how the digestive system adapts during reproduction and pregnancy.

Read more about this research from the MRC LMS here

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

Research published in Nature, October 2020

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