Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Negative feedback


Subjects spending much time sitting have increased risk of obesity but the mechanism for the antiobesity effect of standing is unknown. We hypothesized that there is a homeostatic regulation of body weight. We demonstrate that increased loading of rodents, achieved using capsules with different weights implanted in the abdomen or s.c. on the back, reversibly decreases the biological body weight via reduced food intake. Importantly, loading relieves diet-induced obesity and improves glucose tolerance. The identified homeostat for body weight regulates body fat mass independently of fat-derived leptin, revealing two independent negative feedback systems for fat mass regulation. It is known that osteocytes can sense changes in bone strain. In this study, the body weight-reducing effect of increased loading was lost in mice depleted of osteocytes. We propose that increased body weight activates a sensor dependent on osteocytes of the weight-bearing bones. This induces an afferent signal, which reduces body weight. These findings demonstrate a leptin-independent body weight homeostat (“gravitostat”) that regulates fat mass.

Concepts: Nutrition, Obesity, Adipose tissue, Cybernetics, Feedback, Negative feedback, Dieting, Homeostasis


Type II deiodinase (D2) activates thyroid hormone by converting thyroxine (T4) to 3,5,3'-triiodothyronine (T3). This allows plasma T4 to signal a negative feedback loop that inhibits production of thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) in the mediobasal hypothalamus (MBH) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the pituitary. To determine the relative contributions of these D2 pathways in the feedback loop, we developed 2 mouse strains with pituitary- and astrocyte-specific D2 knockdown (pit-D2 KO and astro-D2 KO mice, respectively). The pit-D2 KO mice had normal serum T3 and were systemically euthyroid, but exhibited an approximately 3-fold elevation in serum TSH levels and a 40% reduction in biological activity. This was the result of elevated serum T4 that increased D2-mediated T3 production in the MBH, thus decreasing Trh mRNA. That tanycytes, not astrocytes, are the cells within the MBH that mediate T4-to-T3 conversion was defined by studies using the astro-D2 KO mice. Despite near-complete loss of brain D2, tanycyte D2 was preserved in astro-D2 KO mice at levels that were sufficient to maintain both the T4-dependent negative feedback loop and thyroid economy. Taken together, these data demonstrated that the hypothalamic-thyroid axis is wired to maintain normal plasma T3 levels, which is achieved through coordination of T4-to-T3 conversion between thyrotrophs and tanycytes.

Concepts: Hypothalamus, Prolactin, Thyroid-stimulating hormone, Thyroid, Feedback, Negative feedback, Thyrotropin-releasing hormone, Triiodothyronine


Circadian (∼24 h) timekeeping is essential for the lives of many organisms. To understand the biochemical mechanisms of this timekeeping, we have developed a detailed mathematical model of the mammalian circadian clock. Our model can accurately predict diverse experimental data including the phenotypes of mutations or knockdown of clock genes as well as the time courses and relative expression of clock transcripts and proteins. Using this model, we show how a universal motif of circadian timekeeping, where repressors tightly bind activators rather than directly binding to DNA, can generate oscillations when activators and repressors are in stoichiometric balance. Furthermore, we find that an additional slow negative feedback loop preserves this stoichiometric balance and maintains timekeeping with a fixed period. The role of this mechanism in generating robust rhythms is validated by analysis of a simple and general model and a previous model of the Drosophila circadian clock. We propose a double-negative feedback loop design for biological clocks whose period needs to be tightly regulated even with large changes in gene dosage.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Biology, Control theory, Feedback, Negative feedback, Period, CLOCK


Considering that hyperhomocysteinemia is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the purpose of this study was to determine the kinetics of serum homocysteine (tHcy) and the vitamins involved in its metabolism (folates, B(12), and B(6)) in response to acute exercise at different intensities. Eight sedentary males (18-27 yr) took part in the study. Subjects were required to complete two isocaloric (400 kcal) acute exercise trials on separate occasions at 40% (low intensity, LI) and 80% VO(2peak) (high intensity, HI). Blood samples were drawn at different points before (pre4 and pre0 h), during (exer10, exer20, exer30, exer45, and exer60 min), and after exercise (post0, post3, and post19 h). Dietary, genetic, and lifestyle factors were controlled. Maximum tHcy occurred during exercise, both at LI (8.6 (8.0-10.1) µmol/L, 9.3% increase from pre0) and HI (9.4 (8.2-10.6) µmol/L, 25.7% increase from pre0), coinciding with an accumulated energy expenditure independent of the exercise intensity. From this point onwards tHcy declined until the cessation of exercise and continued descending. At post19, tHcy was not different from pre-exercise values. No values of hyperhomocysteinemia were observed at any sampling point and intensity. In conclusion, acute exercise in sedentary individuals, even at HI, shows no negative effect on tHcy when at least 400 kcal are spent during exercise and the nutritional status for folate, B(12), and B(6) is adequate, since no hyperhomocysteinemia has been observed and basal concentrations were recovered in less than 24 h. This could be relevant for further informing healthy exercise recommendations.

Concepts: Nutrition, Obesity, Cardiovascular disease, Vitamin, Folic acid, Negative feedback, Homocysteine, Homocystinuria


We identify robust statistical patterns in the frequency and severity of violent attacks by terrorist organizations as they grow and age. Using group-level static and dynamic analyses of terrorist events worldwide from 1968-2008 and a simulation model of organizational dynamics, we show that the production of violent events tends to accelerate with increasing size and experience. This coupling of frequency, experience and size arises from a fundamental positive feedback loop in which attacks lead to growth which leads to increased production of new attacks. In contrast, event severity is independent of both size and experience. Thus larger, more experienced organizations are more deadly because they attack more frequently, not because their attacks are more deadly, and large events are equally likely to come from large and small organizations. These results hold across political ideologies and time, suggesting that the frequency and severity of terrorism may be constrained by fundamental processes.

Concepts: Control theory, Cybernetics, Feedback, Negative feedback, Audio feedback, Terrorism, Albedo, Positive feedback


Poverty remains one of the most pressing problems facing the world; the mechanisms through which poverty arises and perpetuates itself, however, are not well understood. Here, we examine the evidence for the hypothesis that poverty may have particular psychological consequences that can lead to economic behaviors that make it difficult to escape poverty. The evidence indicates that poverty causes stress and negative affective states which in turn may lead to short-sighted and risk-averse decision-making, possibly by limiting attention and favoring habitual behaviors at the expense of goal-directed ones. Together, these relationships may constitute a feedback loop that contributes to the perpetuation of poverty. We conclude by pointing toward specific gaps in our knowledge and outlining poverty alleviation programs that this mechanism suggests.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Control theory, Cybernetics, Feedback, Negative feedback, Behavior, Metaphysics


Tropospheric ozone is a serious air-pollutant, with large impacts on plant function. This study demonstrates that tropospheric ozone, although it damages plant metabolism, does not necessarily reduce ecosystem processes such as productivity or carbon sequestration because of diversity change and compensatory processes at the community scale ameliorate negative impacts at the individual level. This study assesses the impact of ozone on forest composition and ecosystem dynamics with an individual-based gap model that includes basic physiology as well as species-specific metabolic properties. Elevated tropospheric ozone leads to no reduction of forest productivity and carbon stock and to increased isoprene emissions, which result from enhanced dominance by isoprene-emitting species (which tolerate ozone stress better than non-emitters). This study suggests that tropospheric ozone may not diminish forest carbon sequestration capacity. This study also suggests that, because of the often positive relationship between isoprene emission and ozone formation, there is a positive feedback loop between forest communities and ozone, which further aggravates ozone pollution.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Ecosystem, Control theory, Feedback, Negative feedback, Audio feedback, Positive feedback, Tropospheric ozone


Adaptive decision-making uses information gained when exploring alternative options to decide whether to update the current choice strategy. Magnocellular mediodorsal thalamus (MDmc) supports adaptive decision-making, but its causal contribution is not well understood. Monkeys with excitotoxic MDmc damage were tested on probabilistic three-choice decision-making tasks. They could learn and track the changing values in object-reward associations, but they were severely impaired at updating choices after reversals in reward contingencies or when there were multiple options associated with reward. These deficits were not caused by perseveration or insensitivity to negative feedback though. Instead, monkeys with MDmc lesions exhibited an inability to use reward to promote choice repetition after switching to an alternative option due to a diminished influence of recent past choices and the last outcome to guide future behavior. Together, these data suggest MDmc allows for the rapid discovery and persistence with rewarding options, particularly in uncertain or changing environments.

Concepts: Risk, Decision theory, Decision making software, Feedback, Negative feedback, Free will, Philosophy of life, Choice architecture


The ability to encode, retain, and implement instructions within working memory is central to many behaviours, including classroom activities which underpin learning. The three experiments presented here explored how action-planned, enacted, and observed-impacted 6- to 10-year-old’s ability to follow instructions. Experiment 1 (N = 81) found enacted recall was superior to verbal recall, but self-enactment at encoding had a negative effect on enacted recall and verbal recall. In contrast, observation of other-enactment (demonstration) at encoding facilitated both types of recall (Experiment 2a: N = 81). Further, reducing task demands through a reduced set of possible actions (Experiment 2b; N = 64) led to a positive effect of self-enactment at encoding for later recall (both verbal and enacted). Expecting to enact at recall may lead to the creation of an imaginal spatial-motoric plan at encoding that boosts later recall. However, children’s ability to use the additional spatial-motoric codes generated via self-enactment at encoding depends on the demands the task places on central executive resources. Demonstration at encoding appears to reduce executive demands and enable use of these additional forms of coding.

Concepts: Experiment, Hypothesis, Negative feedback, Reducing agent, Working memory, Executive functions


Living organisms have unique homeostatic abilities, maintaining tight control of their local environment through interconversions of chemical and mechanical energy and self-regulating feedback loops organized hierarchically across many length scales. In contrast, most synthetic materials are incapable of continuous self-monitoring and self-regulating behaviour owing to their limited single-directional chemomechanical or mechanochemical modes. Applying the concept of homeostasis to the design of autonomous materials would have substantial impacts in areas ranging from medical implants that help stabilize bodily functions to ‘smart’ materials that regulate energy usage. Here we present a versatile strategy for creating self-regulating, self-powered, homeostatic materials capable of precisely tailored chemo-mechano-chemical feedback loops on the nano- or microscale. We design a bilayer system with hydrogel-supported, catalyst-bearing microstructures, which are separated from a reactant-containing ‘nutrient’ layer. Reconfiguration of the gel in response to a stimulus induces the reversible actuation of the microstructures into and out of the nutrient layer, and serves as a highly precise ‘on/off’ switch for chemical reactions. We apply this design to trigger organic, inorganic and biochemical reactions that undergo reversible, repeatable cycles synchronized with the motion of the microstructures and the driving external chemical stimulus. By exploiting a continuous feedback loop between various exothermic catalytic reactions in the nutrient layer and the mechanical action of the temperature-responsive gel, we then create exemplary autonomous, self-sustained homeostatic systems that maintain a user-defined parameter–temperature–in a narrow range. The experimental results are validated using computational modelling that qualitatively captures the essential features of the self-regulating behaviour and provides additional criteria for the optimization of the homeostatic function, subsequently confirmed experimentally. This design is highly customizable owing to the broad choice of chemistries, tunable mechanics and its physical simplicity, and may lead to a variety of applications in autonomous systems with chemo-mechano-chemical transduction at their core.

Concepts: Organism, Chemical reaction, Chemistry, Control theory, Cybernetics, Feedback, Negative feedback, Homeostasis