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Ahi EP, Duenser A, Singh P, Gessl W, Sturmbauer C.2019. Appetite regulating genes may contribute to herbivory versus carnivory trophic divergence in haplochromine cichlids. PeerJ Preprints7:e27865v1https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.27865v1
Feeding is a complex behaviour comprised of satiety control, foraging, ingestion and subsequent digestion. Cichlids from the East African Great Lakes are renowned for their diverse trophic specializations, largely predicated on highly variable jaw morphologies. Thus, most research has focused on dissecting the genetic, morphological and regulatory basis of jaw and teeth development in these species. Here for the first time we explore another aspect of feeding, the regulation of appetite related genes that are expressed in the brain and control satiety in cichlid fishes. Using qPCR analysis, we first validate stably expressed reference genes in the brain of six haplochromine cichlid species at the end of larval development prior to foraging. We next evaluate the expression of 16 appetite related genes in herbivorous and carnivorous species from the parallel radiations of Lake Tanganyika, Malawi and Victoria. Interestingly, we find increased expression of two anorexigenic genes, cart and npy2r, in the brain of carnivorous species in all the lakes. This supports the notion that herbivory compared to carnivory requires stronger appetite stimulation in order to feed larger quantity of food and to compensate for the relatively poorer nutritional quality of a plant- and algae-based diet. Our study contributes to the limited body of knowledge on the neurological circuitry that controls feeding transitions and adaptations and in cichlids and other teleosts.