The ability to regulate food intake is critical to survival. The hypothalamus is central to this regulation, integrating peripheral signals of energy availability. Although our understanding of hunger in rodents is advanced, an equivalent understanding in birds is lacking. In particular, the relationship between peripheral energy indices and hypothalamic 'hunger' peptides, agouti-related protein (AgRP), pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) and neuropeptide Y (NPY) is poorly understood. Here, we compare AgRP, POMC and NPY RNA levels in the hypothalamus of Red Junglefowl chicks raised under ad libitum, chronic restriction and intermittent feeding regimens. Hypothalamic gene expression differed between chronically and intermittently restricted birds, confirming that different restriction regimens elicit different patterns of hunger. By assessing the relationship between hypothalamic gene expression and carcass traits, we show for the first time in birds that AgRP and POMC are responsive to fat-related measures and therefore represent long-term energy status. Chronically restricted birds, having lower indices of fat, show elevated hunger according to AgRP and POMC. NPY was elevated in intermittently fasted birds during fasting, suggesting a role as a short-term index of hunger. The different physiological and neuroendocrine responses to quantitative versus temporal feed restriction provide novel insights into the divergent roles of avian hunger neuropeptides.
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