From birth, mammals have to find food to ensure growth and survival. Suckling must be initiated quickly after birth and then maintained and controlled. It is a complex process involving interactions between sensory and motor neuronal pathways. The development of these circuits is disturbed in a variety of developmental disorders leading to long-term metabolic, behavioural and cognitive dysfunctions. Interestingly, we showed in a genetic mouse model of a neurodevelopmental disorder, involving the MAGEL2 gene, that oxytocin is required to trigger the suckling activity. This project aims to understand the role of oxytocin in the suckling activity in normal mouse and pathological mouse models of neurodevelopmental diseases. We want to decipher the neuronal circuitry and mechanism by which oxytocin activates the suckling initiation and maintenance. We will investigate the therapeutic action of oxytocin treatment on early feeding behavior.
We will perform an integrative study and use behavioral, electrophysiological, cellular and functional neuroanatomical analyses to trace the neuronal circuit of suckling involving the oxytocin neurons, to decipher the action of oxytocin on motor pathways and to assess the therapeutic action of an early oxytocin treatment. We will conduct this project thanks to a panel of genetic and pharmacogenetic tools.