Lori Zeltser, PhD

Epidemiological studies provide strong evidence that interactions between genetic and early environmental factors influence later susceptibility to obesity and eating disorders. A major obstacle to elucidating the underlying mechanism for these effects is that most research programs are focused on the neuroanatomy and physiology of body weight regulation in adults. The Zeltser laboratory explores how developmental influences exert lasting impacts on body weight regulation. They are defining how interactions between genetic, environmental, and dietary factors across the lifespan affect the maturation and function of neural circuits regulating food intake and energy expenditure. 

Our initial research efforts uncovered several key steps in the ontogeny of leptin-sensing neurons in the mediobasal hypothalamus that regulate energy balance. We then showed how these processes are influenced by maternal diet and postnatal growth rates. We are now utilizing a similar approach to characterize the maturation of sympathetic circuits regulating energy expenditure in the postnatal and periweaning periods and to determine how it is altered by temperature and diet. In parallel to these studies of circuits whose functions are well established, we are also investigating stress-related eating behaviors, about which little is known. We developed novel mouse models to identify brain regions and molecular pathways that mediate gene x environment x dietary influences on “emotional” eating behaviors in adolescence. As a byproduct of efforts to simultaneously evaluate feeding and anxiety-related phenotypes in our experiments, we serendipitously uncovered a sex-specific circuit in the amygdala that mediates vulnerability of females to chronic social isolation.

Selected Publications

  • Madra, M. and Zeltser L.M.  (2016) BDNF-Val66Met variant and adolescent stress interact to promote susceptibility to anorexic behavior in mice. Translational Psychiatry Apr 5;6:e776.
  • Zeltser, L.M. (2018) Feeding circuit development and early life influences on future feeding behavior. Nature Reviews of Neuroscience. Apr 17;19(5):302-316. PMID: 29662204.
  • François, M., Fernández-Gayol, O. and Zeltser, L.M. (2021) A framework for developing translationally relevant animal models of stress-induced changes in eating behavior. Biological Psychiatry Jul 3: S0006-3223(21)01428-1.
  • François M., Canal Delgado I., Shargorodsky N., Leu C.S. and Zeltser L.M.  (2022) Assessing effects of stress on feeding behaviors in laboratory mice. eLife.11:e70271.