My laboratory studies how food, and the lack or food, affects the brain and behaviour. We are primarily interested in understanding the neural circuits that sense hunger or hypoglycemia and influence brain function, including energy homeostasis, glucose homeostasis, mental health and neurodegeneration.
It is becoming increasingly clear that a state of hunger elicits numerous effects on the brain, not just those related to food intake. We are interested in how these metabolic neural circuits detect hunger and hypoglycemia and regulate stress and motivation circuits and link states of hunger with mood and motivation. We believe that the complex interplay between such connected circuits may underlie co-morbidities of mental illness with metabolic dysfunction in disease such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa, obesity, Prader-Willi syndrome, binge-eating and food addictions.
In addition, the inability of the brain to appropriately sense hypoglycemia can lead to coma or death, which is a consistent concern for type-1 diabetic patients and their carers. We focus on the hormone ghrelin as a key hormonal signal of hunger to the brain and our research over a number of years shows that ghrelin relates blood glucose and many non-food associated behaviours such as anxiety and neuroprotection.