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Last update: May 2021

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Protein and Neuroscience Team of Food Behaviour (APNeuro)

Team APNeuro «Protein and Neuroscience Team of Food Behaviour »

Equipe APNeuro « Apports en protéines et neurosciences  du comportement Alimentaire »  (version française)

Research in our team explores the physiological and cognitive bases of eating behavior, in support for sustainable and healthy food policies. In relation to the PNCA unit theme, our main line of research focuses on reducing the consumption of animal proteins and replace it with plant-derived proteins.

Animal-derived proteins provide a supply of amino acids very suited to our physiological needs. The transition to plant sources, which is desirable for agro-ecological reasons, presents several challenges in terms of eating behavior: the acceptability of new sources of protein in the population, and the risk for dietary compensations associated with a poorer adequation to protein intake needs .

Our research aims to improve our understanding of :

-what makes a food recognized as a good source of proteins-drivers and obstacles to plant,

-derived proteins acceptability-compensatory feeding induced by low protein intake.


Cognitive influences (Human studies).

Beyond intrinsic nutritional value, the acceptability of food is influenced by individual preferences, which are the product of personal history, motivations and values, and are influenced by the consumption environment: food supply, place or the social and cultural context of the individual. These influences operate through cognitive processes that involve brain reward circuitry, where different factors that motivate food decision-making are integrated.

We study these dietary decision-making processes in humans using several approaches. We are interested in the mechanisms behind this decision making to reveal their internal logic and dynamics. We are currently studying the implicit associations between foods, the search for variety and even the unconscious mechanisms of hedonic compensation. We also study how the consumption environment influence decision-making by modifying the subjective value of food items. Several ongoing projects focus on the effect of the social context, i.e. the way in which the food choices of the people around us influence our choices. We aim to understand how this environmental effect varies among individuals, depending on motivations, attitudes or psychological traits.

These projects combine methods of experimental psychology to observe behaviors (studies under controlled conditions and observational studies in the field, for example in collective catering), neuroimaging by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to describe the neurophysiological correlates of these behaviors or the modeling of decisions by computer methods, using machine learning. This work is conducted by Olga Davidenko and Nicolas Darcel.

Neurophysiological influences (rodent studies)

Behavioural data show that the adaptation of food intake to the protein content of the diet is extremely rapid, suggesting that the central nervous system can accurately assess the adequacy of intake. Several evaluation systems have been identified (involvement of the vagus nerve and digestive peptides, brain sensing of some amino acids (AA)), but the mechanism by which the brain translates the needs for protein / AA and their satisfaction remains enigmatic, and this especially since proteins / AA have little taste and olfactory specificity. To address these questions, we analyse the impact of nutritional intervention protocols in rats, on behaviour and associated neurobiological mechanisms, in parallel with physiological and metabolic monitoring (in collaboration with the APReM team). Behavioral tests explore dietary and olfactory preferences, coupled with the recording of ultrasonic vocalisations (USVs) revealing positive affective states (work by Vincent Bombail) and the anxiety level of animals. We are exploring neurobiological mechanisms in regions involved in the satietogenic response to digestive signals (dorso-vagal complex of the brain stem) and in the hedonic valence of food (olfactory tubercle and nucleus accumbens). In these structures we assess the activation of neuronal nuclei, astrocytic morphological plasticity and microglial phenotypic plasticity using immunohistochemical methods (work by Isabelle Denis and Gaëlle Champeil-Potokar). The mechanisms of astrocytic plasticity are also analysed in primary cell cultures. Electrophysiological and pharmacological explorations are carried out on the olfactory tubercle in anesthetised rats exposed to food odors (work by Olivier Rampin). All of these studies contribute to characterise the adaptations of eating behaviour to a reduction in protein intake and to define the neuro-glial plasticity that underlies them.

Another focus of our rodent research is on the gut-brain axis. We are evaluating the role of neuroglial plasticity in the dorsovagal complex during pro-inflammatory intestinal modulations induced by obesogenic diets. This work is carried out in collaboration with the other teams of the unit, and with the AMIPEM team of the MICALIS unit.



Vincent Bombail, Research Officer INRAE

My interest lies in studying the interactions between physiology and emotions. The detection of ultrasonic vocalisations (USV) produced by rats allows us to assess certain aspects of their emotional state in a non-invasive way. For example, the measurement of USV at 50kHz frequency allows us to explore the biology of positive emotions or play behaviors. The production of USV being partly regulated by the brain reward circuits (e.g. striatum), we use this tools to measure the hedonic response of the rat in response to diets of different protein content. The analysis of these USV signals, in addition to other approaches, allows us to assess the regulation of eating pleasure, according to physiological needs and nutritional intakes.


Gaëlle Champeil-Potokar, Engineer INRAE

Our neurophysiological approaches involve studies of cellular regulations, characterisation of markers of neuronal and glial plasticity at the level of the brain structures involved in sensory, hedonic and digestive regulations of food intake; behavioural approaches relate to the study of ultrasonic vocalisations as markers of satisfaction of needs.

In this context, I am responsible for the experimental management of projects and the development of models (animals and / or cells) and protocols conducted in vivo and in vitro, for immunohistochemical, biochemical and behavioural studies to meet the needs of rodent research programs in the team, and as part of collaborative projects.


Nicolas Darcel, Lecturer Agroparistech

My research focuses on understanding human food decision making, particularly choices related to protein intake. I work to understand and model the mental processes of decision making and the logics and dynamics of human food choices related to protein intake by combining consumer science, behavioural neuroscience, computer science and applied mathematics. This work is, among others, currently the subject of a research project supported by the ANR (SHIFT project), and a project supported by the Carnot Qualiment Institute (4CP project).


Olga Davidenko, Lecturer Agroparistech

My research focuses to studying the effect of context on food decision-making and the consequences on the functioning of the brain reward system, as well as the interaction of context with the characteristics of the individual, which are also determinants of food choices. Behavioural change towards more sustainable food choices is a theme that is particularly present in my current projects, notably protein food choices. The research methods I use include consumer studies, experimental psychology methods, as well as neuroimaging by functional MRI.


Isabelle Denis, Research Officer INRAE

Specialized in Nutrition-Health, I study the neurobiological mechanisms involved in the regulation of food intake, targeting the plasticity of neuron-glia interactions. Astrocytes play a role in changes in neuronal activity that allow behaviour (food consumption) to adapt to physiological status (nutritional status). We have recently shown that variations in astrocyte deployment in the olfactory bulb glomeruli can contribute to the adaptation of olfactory perception to metabolic status. We are currently evaluating the role of astrocytes in adapting protein intake to needs, in brain structures that regulate eating behavior. We are also exploring the sentinel role of astrocytes and microglia of the dorsovagal complex in the brainstem, in response to intestinal signals generated by obesogenic eating contexts.


Olivier Rampin, Research Director INRAE

Our senses analyze the food we eat. Vision, smell, texture, taste and visceroception contribute to our food choices. Activation of these sensory pathways activate relays in the brain, and nothing more. For sensory pathways to elicit eating behaviour, they need to be reinforced by additional information originating in other brain nuclei. Such nuclei provide information such as: I am fed/fasted, I remember this odor, I like/I don’t like this odor. In our lab we use a model of the perception of food odor in rats. Our hypothesis is that the ventral striatum is an integrative center for the evaluation of food. In the striatum, dopamine, a neuromediator involved in reward mechanisms, is among the chemicals candidate to bring the positive valence attached to food odor.  This added value is part of the incentive that drives the animal towards food.       


Armelle Garcia, doctoral student


Alya Hammami, doctoral student


Chloé Brouzes, doctoral student


Akkoyunlu, S., Manfredotti, C., Cornuéjols, A., Darcel, N., & Delaere, F. (2017, August 31). Investigating substitutability of food items in consumption data. 11th ACM Conference on Recommender Systems.

Akkoyunlu, S., Manfredotti, C., Cornuéjols, A., Darcel, N., & Delaere, F. (2018). Exploring eating behaviours modelling for user clustering. 12th ACM Conference on Recommender Systems

Bombail V, Jerôme N, Lam H, Muszlak S, Meddle S, Lawrence AB, Nielsen BL (2019). Odour conditioning of positive affective states: Rats can learn to associate an odour with being tickled. PLoS ONE 14(6): e0212829.

Bombail, V (2019). Perception and emotions: on the relationships between stress and olfaction. Applied Animal Behavioural Science, 212, 98-108.

Carlin G, Chaumontet C, Champeil-Potokar G, Blachier F, Simonin-Foucaut A, Barbillon P, Darcel N, Delteil C, Grausso M, Van der Beek M, Kodde A, Van de Heijning B, Rampin O, Tomé D, Denis I, Davila AM. Protein quantity and quality in the maternal diet during perinatal period influence protein preferences in female rat offspring. En préparation.

Champeil-Potokar G, Hennebelle M, Latour A, Vancassel S, Denis I. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) prevents corticosterone-induced changes in astrocyte morphology and function. J Neurochem. 2016. 136:1155-1167.

Davidenko, O., Bonny, J.-M., Morrot, G., Jean, B., Claise, B., Benmoussa, A., Fromentin, G., Tomé, D., Nadkarni, N., & Darcel, N. (2018). Differences in BOLD responses in brain reward network reflect the tendency to assimilate a surprising flavor stimulus to an expected stimulus. NeuroImage, 183, 37‑46.

Davila AM, Blais A, Denis I, Champeil-Potokar G, Rampin O, Grauso Culetto M, Mathé V, Lan A, Mariotti F, Blachier F, Hermier D. Early insulin resistance is associated with alterations in gut permeability and microbial activity in rats fed a moderately westernized diet. En préparation.

Daumas-Meyer V, Champeil-Potokar G, Chaumontet C, Dahirel P, Papillon C, Congar P, Denis I. Fasting induces astroglial plasticity in the olfactory bulb glomeruli of rats. Glia. 2018. 66(4):762-776.

Guillocheau, E., Davidenko, O., Marsset-Baglieri, A., Darcel, N., Gaudichon, C., Tomé, D., & Fromentin, G. (2018). Expected satiation alone does not predict actual intake of desserts. Appetite, 123, 183‑190.

Hammond T, Bombail V, Nielsen BL, Meddle SL, Lawrence AB, Brown S (2019). Relationships between play and responses to tickling in male juvenile rats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 221: 104879

Nielsen BL, Rampin O, Meunier N, Bombail V. Front Neurosci. Behavioral responses to odors from other species: introducing a complementary model of allelochemics involving vertebrates. 2015 Jun 25;9:226. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2015.00226. eCollection 2015.

Rampin O, Jerôme N, Saint-Albin A, Ouali C, Boué F, Meunier N, Nielsen BL. Where is the TMT? GC-MS analyses of fox feces and behavioral responses of rats to fear-inducing odors.  Chem Senses. 2018 Feb 2;43(2):105-115. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjx075.

Rampin O, Bellier C, Maurin Y. Electrophysiological responses of rat olfactory tubercle neurons to biologically relevant odours. Eur J Neurosci. 2012 Jan;35(1):97-105. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2011.07940.x. Epub 2011 Nov 25.