What can we learn from seasonal animals about the regulation of energy balance?

Peter John Morgan, Alexander Ross, Julian Mercer, Perry Barrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Weight loss in humans requires, except during an illness, some form of imposed restriction on food intake or increase in energy expenditure. This necessitates overcoming powerful peripheral and central signals that serve to protect against negative energy balance. The identification of the systems and pathways involved has come from mouse models with genetic and targeted mutations, e.g., ob/ob and MC4 R-/- as well as rat models of obesity.

Study of seasonal animals has shown that they undergo annual cycles of body fattening and adipose tissue loss as important adaptations to environmental change, yet these changes appear to involve mechanisms distinct from those known already. One animal model, the Siberian hamster, exhibits marked, but reversible, weight loss in response to shortening day length. The body weight is driven by a decrease in food intake with the magnitude of the loss of body weight being directly related to the length of time of exposure to short photoperiod. The most important facet of this response is that the point of energy balance is continuously re-adjusted during the transition in body weight reflecting an apparent 'sliding set point'.

Studies have focused on identifying the neural basis of this mechanism. Initial studies of known genes (e.g., NPY, POMC, and AgRP) both through the measurement of gene expression in the arcuate nucleus as well as following intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) injection indicated that the systems involved are not those involved in restoring energy balance following energy deficits. Instead, a novel mechanism of regulation is implied.

Recent studies have begun to explore the neural basis of the seasonal body weight response. A discrete and novel region of the posterior arcuate nucleus, the dorsal medial posterior arcuate nucleus (dmpARC) has been identified, where a battery of gene expression changes for signalling molecules (vgf and histamine H3 receptor) and transcription factors (RXR gamma and RAR) occur in association with seasonal changes in body weight. This work provides the basis of a potentially novel mechanism of energy balance regulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-337
Number of pages13
JournalProgress in Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • hamster phodopus-sungorus
  • sympathetic nervous-system
  • male Siberian hamster
  • body-weight
  • gene-expression
  • arcuate nucleus
  • food-intake
  • photoperiodic regulation
  • Djungarian hamster
  • white fat


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