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Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Investigates Link between Fear and Appetite

4/9/2013 7:53:34 AM

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – During the past few years, the laboratory of Dr. Riccardo Mozzachiodi, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, has been studying how the brain responds to fear.

Recently, the research team led by Dr. Mozzachiodi looked into the cellular mechanisms by which fear affects the brain’s ability to make decisions. In particular, Dr. Mozzachiodi examined the effects of fear on the decision to eat, using the brain of a marine snail, whose nerve cells functions are similar to those of the human brain. Dr. Mozzachiodi found that, when the brain experiences fear, cell activity in the part of the brain that decides to eat reduces function for at least 24 hours.

“The brain becomes more concerned with protecting itself and disregards other functions, like eating,” said Dr. Mozzachiodi. Dr. Mozzachiodi found that within 72 hours of being frightened, the snail recovered its decision-making ability.

“In essence, the brain had to budget its function,” he said. “While it was afraid, the cells that were more active were those dealing with awareness of danger. This defensive state came with the price of reducing other functions, including eating.”

Dr. Mozzachiodi says this neuroscience research can help us gain a better understanding of the relationship between fear and appetitive behaviors. He calls the study a “building block for further biomedical research” in areas such as post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, and mood disorders.

The study was recently published under the title “Effects of Aversive Stimuli Beyond Defensive Neural Circuits: Reduced Excitability in an Identified Neuron Critical for Feeding in Aplysia” in the January issue of “Learning & Memory,” which is ranked within the top 25 percent of journals in the area of neuroscience. The study, sponsored by the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Texas Research Development Fund, is authored by two graduate students (Maria Shields-Johnson and John Hernandez), two undergraduate students (Cody Torno and Katherine Adams) and by Dr. Mozzachiodi’s collaborator Dr. Marcy Wainwright.

About the College of Science and Engineering: The College of Science and Engineering offers cutting-edge programs supported by award-winning faculty deeply-invested in education and the growth and continuation of knowledge from one generation to the next. As one of the leading institutions for coastal, marine, and environmental research, the College is committed to maintaining an academic environment in which students develop as dynamic professionals who will make significant contributions to society. The College is the academic home of faculty endowed by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, one of the foremost leaders in the support and advancement of the long-term use and conservation of the world’s ninth largest body of water. The College also houses the Conrad Blucher Institute for Surveying and Science, a center of geospatial research and coastal monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico and the Center for Coastal Studies, recognized internationally for research in harmful algae and their toxins.

About Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi: Offering more than 60 of the most popular degree programs in the state, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has proudly provided a solid academic reputation, renowned faculty, and highly-rated degree programs since 1947. The Island University has earned its spot as one of the top research institutions in Texas and supports two marine-oriented Ph.D. programs. For more information, go to

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