The role of learning and growth hormone-releasing factor in the control of protein intake in rats /
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Both learning and basic biological mechanisms have been shown to play a role in the control of protein int^e. It has previously been shown that rats can adapt their dietary selection patterns successfully in the face of changing macronutrient requirements and availability. In particular, it has been demonstrated that when access to dietary protein is restricted for a period of time, rats selectively increase their consumption of a proteincontaining diet when it becomes available. Furthermore, it has been shown that animals are able to associate various orosensory cues with a food's nutrient content. In addition to the role that learning plays in food intake, there are also various biological mechanisms that have been shown to be involved in the control of feeding behaviour. Numerous studies have documented that various hormones and neurotransmitter substances mediate food intake. One such hormone is growth hormone-releasing factor (GRF), a peptide that induces the release of growth hormone (GH) from the anterior pituitary gland. Recent research by Vaccarino and Dickson ( 1 994) suggests that GRF may stimulate food intake by acting as a neurotransmitter in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and the adjacent medial preoptic area (MPOA). In particular, when GRF is injected directly into the SCN/MPOA, it has been shown to selectively enhance the intake of protein in both fooddeprived and sated rats. Thus, GRF may play a role in activating protein consumption generally, and when animals have a need for protein, GRF may serve to trigger proteinseeking behaviour. Although researchers have separately examined the role of learning and the central mechanisms involved in the control of protein selection, no one has yet attempted to bring together these two lines of study. Thus, the purpose of this study is to join these two parallel lines of research in order to further our understanding of mechanisms controlling protein selection. In order to ascertain the combined effects that GRF and learning have on protein intake several hypothesis were examined. One major hypothesis was that rats would successfully alter their dietary selection patterns in response to protein restriction. It was speculated that rats kept on a nutritionally complete maintenance diet (NCMD) would consume equal amount of the intermittently presented high protein conditioning diet (HPCD) and protein-free conditioning diet (PFCD). However, it was hypothesized that rats kept on a protein-free maintenance diet (PFMD) would selectively increase their intake of the HPCD. Another hypothesis was that rats would learn to associate a distinct marker flavour with the nutritional content of the diets. If an animal is able to make the association between a marker flavour and the nutrient content of the food, then it is hypothesized that they will consume more of a mixed diet (equal portion HPCD and PFCD) with the marker flavour that was previously paired with the HPCD (Mixednp-f) when kept on the PFMD. In addition, it was hypothesized that intracranial injection of GRF into the SCN/MPOA would result in a selective increase in HPCD as well as Mixednp-t consumption. Results demonstrated that rats did in fact selectively increase their consumption of the flavoured HPCD and Mixednp-f when kept on the NCMD. These findings indicate that the rats successfully learned about the nutrient content of the conditioning diets and were able to associate a distinct marker flavour with the nutrient content of the diets. However, the results failed to support previous findings that GRF increases protein intake. In contrast, the administration of GRF significantly reduced consumption of HPCD during the first hour of testing as compared to the no injection condition. In addition, no differences in the intake of the HPCD were found between the GRF and vehicle condition. Because GRF did not selectively increase HPCD consumption, it was not surprising that GRF also did not increase MixedHP-rintake. What was interesting was that administration of GRF and vehicle did not reduc^Mixednp-f consumption as it had decreased HPCD consumption.