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During starvation, counterregulatory responses to loss of food (i.e. responses that lead to an increase in appetite) occur in the central nervous system (CNS). This study was designed to examine whether middle-aged rats show greater or smaller behavioural, peripheral and central hormonal responses during starvation compared to young rats. In experiment 1, refeeding following 4 days of starvation was measured in both middle-aged (72-week-old) and young (9-week-old) rats. The level of refeeding was similar to each prestarved level until 3 days after the end of starvation in both groups. From the 4th day, the level of refeeding in young rats increased and reached beyond the prestarved level, whereas refeeding in middle-aged rats remained similar to the prestarved level. Thus, overall refeeding throughout 7 days was greater in young rats than in middle-aged rats. In experiment 2, middle-aged and young rats were starved for 4 days and were killed in the morning. Middle-aged rats showed a smaller plasma corticosterone response than that of young rats. The magnitude of decreases in plasma glucose, insulin and leptin was similar in both groups. In the arcuate nucleus, the starvation-induced increase in neuropeptide Y (NPY) mRNA and the decrease in proopiomelanocortin (POMC) mRNA were smaller in middle-aged rats than in young rats. In contrast, the starvation-induced decrease in corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) mRNA in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus was greater in middle-aged rats than young rats. The magnitude of decrease in type-2 CRH receptor mRNA in the ventromedial hypothalamus was similar in both groups. The results indicate that (a) ageing impaired refeeding response (b), middle-aged rats showed the same directional neuropeptide mRNA responses as seen in young rats during starvation and (c) the magnitude of these counterregulatory responses in the CNS in middle-aged versus young rats was not uniform, but rather was site-specific or neuropeptide-specific. This study suggests the importance of NPY and POMC responsiveness in the arcuate nucleus in the age-related differences resulting from starvation-induced refeeding.