A major evolutionarily conserved function of the nervous system is to locate, ingest, and control the metabolism of food. Energy intake is normally tightly balanced with energy expenditure to maintain body weight and support reproduction. Moderate reductions in energy intake can improve health and extend life span, whereas overeating promotes a range of diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers. Severe reductions in energy intake, as occur during starvation and anorexia nervosa, can result in brain damage and death. In this article we describe how brain cells respond to energy restriction and excess, and the consequences of those responses for the long-term function and plasticity of the nervous system and the survival of the organism. Recent findings suggest that energy intake can affect multiple processes including learning and memory, sensory-motor function, and the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders.
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