Nature's food anticipatory experiment: entrainment of locomotor behavior, suprachiasmatic and dorsomedial hypothalamic nuclei by suckling in rabbit pups


Dr M. Caba, as above.


In nature and under laboratory conditions, dams nurse rabbit pups once daily for a duration of fewer than 5 min. The present study explored neural mechanisms mediating the timing of nursing in this natural model of food anticipatory activity, focussing on the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the locus of the master circadian clock and on the dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus (DMH), a region implicated in timing of food-entrained behavior. Rabbit pups are born in the dark, with eyelids closed. Nursing visits to the litters also occurs during the dark phase. To explore the effect of the timing of feeding, pups were maintained in constant darkness, while females housed in a light–dark cycle were permitted to nurse their pups either during the night (night-fed group) or day (day-fed group). All pups exhibited anticipatory locomotor activity before daily nursing. In the SCN, PER1 and FOS peaked during the night in both groups, with a longer duration of elevated protein expression in the night-fed group. In contrast, DMH peak PER1 expression occurred 8 h after pups were fed, corresponding to the shift in timing of nursing. Comparison of nursed and 48 h fasted pups indicates that the timing of PER1 expression was similar in the SCN and DMH, with fewer PER1-positive cells in the latter group. The results indicate that rabbit pups show food anticipatory activity, and that timing of nursing differentially affects PER1 expression in the SCN and DMH.