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Neuroendocrine and physiological regulation of intake with particular reference to domesticated ruminant animals

  • John R. Roche (a1) (a2), Dominique Blache (a3), Jane K. Kay (a1), Dale R. Miller (a2), Angela J. Sheahan (a1) and David W. Miller (a4)...


The central nervous system undertakes the homeostatic role of sensing nutrient intake and body reserves, integrating the information, and regulating energy intake and/or energy expenditure. Few tasks regulated by the brain hold greater survival value, particularly important in farmed ruminant species, where the demands of pregnancy, lactation and/or growth are not easily met by often bulky plant-based and sometimes nutrient-sparse diets. Information regarding metabolic state can be transmitted to the appetite control centres of the brain by a diverse array of signals, such as stimulation of the vagus nerve, or metabolic ‘feedback’ factors derived from the pituitary gland, adipose tissue, stomach/abomasum, intestine, pancreas and/or muscle. These signals act directly on the neurons located in the arcuate nucleus of the medio-basal hypothalamus, a key integration, and hunger (orexigenic) and satiety (anorexigenic) control centre of the brain. Interest in human obesity and associated disorders has fuelled considerable research effort in this area, resulting in increased understanding of chronic and acute factors influencing feed intake. In recent years, research has demonstrated that these results have relevance to animal production, with genetic selection for production found to affect orexigenic hormones, feeding found to reduce the concentration of acute controllers of orexigenic signals, and exogenous administration of orexigenic hormones (i.e. growth hormone or ghrelin) reportedly increasing DM intake in ruminant animals as well as single-stomached species. The current state of knowledge on factors influencing the hypothalamic orexigenic and anorexigenic control centres is reviewed, particularly as it relates to domesticated ruminant animals, and potential avenues for future research are identified.

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*Corresponding author: Dr J. R. Roche, fax +64 7 8583751, email


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