A Novel Automated System Yields Reproducible Temporal Feeding Patterns in Laboratory Rodents

Thomas W. Tilston, Richard D. Brown, Matthew J. Wateridge, Bradley Arms-Williams, Jamie J. Walker, Yuxiang Sun, Timothy Wells

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND: The impact of temporal feeding patterns remains a major unanswered question in nutritional science. Progress has been hampered by the absence of a reliable method to impose temporal feeding in laboratory rodents, without the confounding influence of food-hoarding behavior. 

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to develop and validate a reliable method for supplying crushed diets to laboratory rodents in consistent, relevant feeding patterns for prolonged periods. 

METHODS: We programmed our experimental feeding station to deliver a standard diet [StD; Atwater Fuel Energy (AFE) 13.9% fat] or high-fat diet (HFD; AFE 45% fat) during nocturnal grazing [providing 1/24th of the total daily food intake (tdF/I) of ad libitum-fed controls every 30 min] and meal-fed (3 × 1-h periods of ad libitum feeding) patterns in male rats (Sprague-Dawley: 4 wk old, 72-119 g) and mice [C57/Bl6J wild-type (WT): 6 mo old, 29-37 g], and ghrelin-null littermates (Ghr-/-; 27-34 g). 

RESULTS: Grazing yielded accurate, consistent feeding events in rats, with an approximately linear rise in nocturnal cumulative food intake [tdF/I (StD): 97.4 ± 1.5% accurate compared with manual measurement; R2 = 0.86; tdF/I (HFD): 99.0 ± 1.4% accurate; R2 = 0.86]. Meal-feeding produced 3 nocturnal meals of equal size and duration in StD-fed rats (tdF/I: 97.4 ± 0.9% accurate; R2 = 0.90), whereas the second meal size increased progressively in HFD-fed rats (44% higher on day 35 than on day 14; P < 0.01). Importantly, cumulative food intake in grazing and meal-fed rats was identical. Similar results were obtained in WT mice except that less restricted grazing induced hyperphagia (compared with meal-fed WT mice; P < 0.05 from day 1). This difference was abolished in Ghr-/- mice, with meal initiation delayed and meal duration enhanced. Neither pattern elevated corticosterone secretion in rats, but meal-feeding aligned ultradian pulses. 

CONCLUSIONS: We have established a consistent, measurable, researcher-defined, stress-free method for imposing temporal feeding patterns in rats and mice. This approach will facilitate progress in understanding the physiologic impact of feeding patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1674-1684
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journal of nutrition
Issue number9
Early online date9 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • automated blood sampling
  • automated feeding
  • corticosterone profiles
  • feeding patterns
  • ghrelin
  • grazing
  • meal microstructure
  • meal-feeding


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