Understanding the control of ingestive behavior in primates

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This article is part of a Special Issue “Energy Balance”.

Ingestive behavior in free-ranging populations of nonhuman primates is influenced by resource availability and social group organization and provides valuable insight on the evolution of ecologically adaptive behaviors and physiological systems. As captive populations were established, questions regarding proximate mechanisms that regulate food intake in these animals could be more easily addressed. The availability of these captive populations has led to the use of selected species to understand appetite control or metabolic physiology in humans. Recognizing the difficulty of quantitating food intake in free-ranging groups, the use of captive, singly-housed animals provided a distinct advantage though, at the same time, produced a different social ecology from the animals' natural habitat. However, the recent application of novel technologies to quantitate caloric intake and energy expenditure in free-feeding, socially housed monkeys permits prospective studies that can accurately define how food intake changes in response to any number of interventions in the context of a social environment. This review provides an overview of studies examining food intake using captive nonhuman primates organized into three areas: a) neurochemical regulation of food intake in nonhuman primates; b) whether exposure to specific diets during key developmental periods programs differences in diet preferences or changes the expression of feeding related neuropeptides; and c) how psychosocial factors influence appetite regulation. Because feeding patterns are driven by more than just satiety and orexigenic signals, appreciating how the social context influences pattern of feeding in nonhuman primates may be quite informative for understanding the biological complexity of feeding in humans.

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