Cortical Processing of Interoceptive and Exteroceptive Signals

2021 Seed Grant
Sarah Stern, Ph.D.
Max Planck Florida Institute

Women’s Council Seed Grant

Interoception is the process by which animals and humans sense their bodily state, and deficits in interoception are proposed to underlie numerous psychiatric disorders and maladaptive behaviors. Feeding, in particular, is a complex motivated behavior, involving the regulation of energy balance, self-perception of energy state (interoception), and processing of external, feeding-related cues (exteroception). The insular cortex is hypothesized to be a region that integrates interoceptive and exteroceptive cues, but the mechanisms underlying that integration have yet not been elucidated. Our foundational studies will help us begin to understand this process. Using single-cell sequencing technology, we will first determine the transcriptomic landscape of the insular cortex to define neural populations that are critical for interoception. We will then monitor and manipulate their activity during feeding-related tasks and energy balance changes in order to determine how the insular cortex integrates this information to provide control of feeding behavior. These studies will provide essential information as to how the insular cortex, a brain region that specifically regulates overconsumption and not homeostatic feeding, integrates information about the internal state of the animal in order to coordinate feeding responses and specifically overconsumption. Our results will serve as a basis to conduct further studies on the development of maladaptive eating behaviors during childhood to adulthood.

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