Computational analysis of the hypothalamic control of food intake

Shayan Tabe-Bordbar, Thomas J. Anastasio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Food-intake control is mediated by a heterogeneous network of different neural subtypes, distributed over various hypothalamic nuclei and other brain structures, in which each subtype can release more than one neurotransmitter or neurohormone. The complexity of the interactions of these subtypes poses a challenge to understanding their specific contributions to food-intake control, and apparent consistencies in the dataset can be contradicted by new findings. For example, the growing consensus that arcuate nucleus neurons expressing Agouti-related peptide (AgRP neurons) promote feeding, while those expressing pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC neurons) suppress feeding, is contradicted by findings that low AgRP neuron activity and high POMC neuron activity can be associated with high levels of food intake. Similarly, the growing consensus that GABAergic neurons in the lateral hypothalamus suppress feeding is contradicted by findings suggesting the opposite. Yet the complexity of the food-intake control network admits many different network behaviors. It is possible that anomalous associations between the responses of certain neural subtypes and feeding are actually consistent with known interactions, but their effect on feeding depends on the responses of the other neural subtypes in the network. We explored this possibility through computational analysis. We made a computer model of the interactions between the hypothalamic and other neural subtypes known to be involved in food-intake control, and optimized its parameters so that model behavior matched observed behavior over an extensive test battery. We then used specialized computational techniques to search the entire model state space, where each state represents a different configuration of the responses of the units (model neural subtypes) in the network. We found that the anomalous associations between the responses of certain hypothalamic neural subtypes and feeding are actually consistent with the known structure of the food-intake control network, and we could specify the ways in which the anomalous configurations differed from the expected ones. By analyzing the temporal relationships between different states we identified the conditions under which the anomalous associations can occur, and these stand as model predictions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number27
JournalFrontiers in Computational Neuroscience
Issue numberAPR
StatePublished - Apr 26 2016


  • Computer model
  • Feeding
  • Hypothalamus
  • Ingestive behavior
  • Neural network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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