Chicken lines that have been divergently selected for either low (LWS) or high (HWS) body weight at 56 days of age for more than 57 generations have different feeding behaviours in response to a range of i.c.v. injected neurotransmitters. The LWS have different severities of anorexia, whereas the HWS become obese. Previously, we demonstrated that LWS chicks did not respond, whereas HWS chicks increased food intake, after central injection of neuropeptide Y (NPY). The present study aimed to determine the molecular mechanisms underlying the loss of orexigenic function of NPY in LWS. Chicks were divided into four groups: stressed LWS and HWS on day of hatch, and control LWS and HWS. The stressor was a combination of food deprivation and cold exposure. On day 5 post-hatch, each chick received an i.c.v. injection of vehicle or 0.2 nmol of NPY. Only the LWS stressed group did not increase food intake in response to i.c.v. NPY. Hypothalamic mRNA abundance of appetite-associated factors was measured at 1 h post-injection. Interactions of genetic line, stress and NPY treatment were observed for the mRNA abundance of agouti-related peptide (AgRP) and synaptotagmin 1 (SYT1). Intracerebroventricular injection of NPY decreased and increased AgRP and SYT1 mRNA, respectively, in the stressed LWS and increased AgRP mRNA in stressed HWS chicks. Stress was associated with increased NPY, orexin receptor 2, corticotrophin-releasing factor receptor 1, melanocortin receptor 3 (MC3R) and growth hormone secretagogue receptor expression. In conclusion, the loss of responsiveness to exogenous NPY in stressed LWS chicks may be a result of the decreased and increased hypothalamic expression of AgRP and MC3R, respectively. This may induce an intensification of anorexigenic melanocortin signalling pathways in LWS chicks that block the orexigenic effect of exogenous NPY. These results provide insights onto the anorexic condition across species, and especially for forms of inducible anorexia such as human anorexia nervosa.