One Million Euros for Research on the Brain and Nutritional Behavior

How our brain functions in adulthood can already be influenced by environmental factors during pregnancy. Besides known influencing factors such as cigarette and alcohol consumption, the mother's diet seems to play a decisive role. Dr. Rachel Lippert wants to investigate on the mouse model how maternal nutrition affects the formation and interaction of neurons and shapes the behavior of the offspring up to adulthood. For this research project, the DZD scientist and head of a junior research group at DIfE will receive one million euros for the next five years from the Leibniz Association within the "Leibniz Best Minds - Junior Research Groups" funding program.

Dr. Rachel Lippert. Source: privat

Closing knowledge gaps
Numerous studies show that there are relationships between excessive body weight of the mother during pregnancy and an increased risk of metabolic diseases, such as overweight and diabetes, in the offspring. But also neuronal developmental disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are associated with the oversupply of food in the womb. However, little is known about the exact mechanisms by which the maternal diet and weight gain during pregnancy lead to these harmful effects in the offspring.

Rachel Lippert wants to close this knowledge gap. Using a special mouse model, she is investigating the influence of maternal nutrition and metabolic status on the function of the melanocortin system in the brain of the offspring. Her focus is on specific brain regions that regulate energy homeostasis and consumption and reward behavior. Using novel analytical methods, Lippert and her team aim to visualize and quantify changes in neuronal activities.

"The health status of the child is already influenced in the womb. Through my research I would like to contribute to the growing importance of nutrition in prenatal care as a preventive measure. The incidence of overweight and associated diseases could be minimized and our health system could be relieved," said Lippert, who has been head of the Junior Research Group Neurocircuit Development and Function at the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke (DIfE) since the beginning of 2020.

Nutrition research meets neuroscience
"In the last five years I have been able to gain a lot of knowledge and experience in a purely neuroscientific environment. DIfE now offers me an interdisciplinary research environment with excellent facilities. Here I can combine nutrition research with neuroscience in an optimal way," said Lippert. In addition, as a researcher of the NeuroCure Cluster of Excellence, she will be able to use the infrastructures of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

Rachel Lippert convinced the Senate Committee of the Leibniz Association not only with her coherent, promising and socially significant research concept, but also with her active commitment to science communication. "Dr. Lippert is an exceptionally motivated and communicative person. She shares her passion for her research through various channels, also outside the scientific community. We are very pleased that the Leibniz Association is funding Rachel Lippert's ambitious research project for the next five years," said Professor Tilman Grune, scientific director at DIfE.

About Dr. Lippert:
Dr. Rachel Lippert heads the Junior Research Group Neurocircuit Development and Function at the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke (DIfE), partly financed by the Cluster of Excellence NeuroCure of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Using a mouse model, Lippert and her team are investigating basic processes for processing food stimuli in the brain.

The US-born neuroscientist studied Chemistry and English at Albion College in Albion, Michigan from 2004 to 2008. During her subsequent doctoral studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, the 34-year-old focused on the function of the melanocortin 3 receptor, which is involved in maintaining a balance between food intake and energy consumption and thus a stable body weight.

Lippert successfully completed her doctoral thesis in 2014 and then moved on to the Department of Neural Control of Metabolism headed by Professor Jens Brüning at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne. There she investigated on a mouse model how the mother's diet affects the interconnection of nerve cells in the developing brain of her offspring.

Also read: Interview with Dr. Rachel Lippert: (in German)
(Audio.mp3 in English, 21 min.)

Background Information:
Leibniz Competition 2021: Leibniz Best Minds – Junior Research Groups

Every year, around 80 of the 96 Leibniz Institutes compete directly for a total of 24 million euros in funding. The Leibniz Association provides various funding programs for this purpose, including the "Leibniz Junior Research Groups" format. It offers talented young researchers scientific independence, competitive facilities and excellent networking opportunities. This year, the Senate Competition Committee (SAW) recommended a total of three research projects from the Life Sciences Section, including Dr. Rachel Lippert's project " "Broad Adaptations to Brain Connectivity due to Maternal Influences on Neurocircuits caused by Diet" (BAByMIND). The approved funding in the amount of one million euros will enable Lippert, among other things, to expand her junior research group by one research associate and two doctoral candidates.