Neurogenesis is an important and vastly unexplored area in reptiles. While the ability to generate new brain cells in the adult mammalian brain is limited, reptiles are able to regenerate large populations of neuronal cells. What makes pythons a particularly interesting subject in this field is their characteristic specific dynamic action (SDA) response after food intake with an increase in metabolic rate in order to process the meal. Further, they exhibit impressive plasticity in their digestive and cardiovascular physiology due to the sheer magnitude of the increase in organ growth that occurs after a meal to allow digestion and to absorb and assimilate nutrients from it. While this systemic growth in response to food consumption is well documented, what is happening in the brain is currently unexplored. For this study, juvenile male ball pythons (Python regius) were used to test the hypothesis that postprandial neurogenesis is associated with food consumption. We used the thymidine analog 5-bromo-12’-deoxyuridine to quantify and compare cell proliferation in the brain of fasted snakes and at two and six days after a meal: during and after the SDA response, respectively. In all groups the retrobulbar and olfactory regions had the highest numbers of proliferating cells, consistent with other reptile species. Throughout the telencephalon, cell proliferation was significantly greater in the six-day group, with no difference between the two-day group and controls. Most postprandial systemic plasticity occurs within a day or two after a meal and decreases after digestion, however, the brain displays the opposite result, with a surge of cell proliferation after most of the digestion and absorption is complete. Our results support our hypothesis and indicate that food consumption does affect neurogenesis, increasing cell proliferation at specific time points after a meal.
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