Brenda Richards (Smith), Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Genetics of Eating Behavior
(225) 763-2562
(225) 763-0273
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Ph.D., Nursing, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, 1992


Our research aims to uncover genetic determinants and mechanisms of macronutrient selection and total energy intake, eating behaviors fundamental to the development of obesity. There is growing evidence for a strong genetic influence on eating behavior in both children and adults. However, the specific genes responsible for macronutrient-specific preferences are virtually unknown. We identified the first chromosomal loci in mammals that are associated with preferential carbohydrate, fat, and total calorie intake. Recent efforts have focused on candidate genes within a fine-mapped region of proximal chromosome 17, harboring genetic loci for three eating behavior traits: preferential carbohydrate, total calories, and total food volume. No genetic linkage for fat intake was detected, clearly emphasizing the carbohydrate-specific effects of this region. To find the DNA variation that influences individual differences in food preferences, our laboratory uses a variety of methods including behavioral analysis of feeding behavior, mouse genetics and genomics, molecular biology and bioinformatics.

We are also investigating how the absence of a specific enzyme in the mitochondrial beta oxidation of fatty acids results in decreased fat intake. Our work discovered that mice with genetically inactivated Acads, encoding short-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase (SCAD), shift food consumption away from fat and toward carbohydrate when offered a choice between macronutrient-rich diets, while maintaining total energy intake equivalent to that of wild type controls. To our knowledge, this is the first report of altered eating behavior associated with an acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency.


Richards BK, Kappen C, and Newman S. Hypothalamic transcriptome analysis of congenic-derived F2 mice (chromosome 17:3-45 Mb) exhibiting preferential carbohydrate (versus fat) intake. Genom Data, in press.

Ghosh S, Kruger C, Wicks S, Simon J, Kumar KG, Johnson WD, Mynatt RL, Noland RC, and Richards BK. Short chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency and short-term high-fat diet perturb mitochondrial energy metabolism and transcriptional control of lipid handling in liver. Nutr & Metab, 13:17, 2016.

Laque A, Yu S, Qualls-Creekmore E, Gettys S, Schwartzenburg C, Bui K, Rhodes C, Berthoud H-R, Morrison CD, Richards BK, M├╝nzberg H. Leptin modulates nutrient reward via inhibitory galanin action on orexin neurons. Mol Metab, 4(10):706-17, 2015.

Simon J, DiCarlo LM, Kruger C, Johnson WD, Kappen C, Richards BK. Gene expression in salivary glands: Effects of diet and mouse chromosome 17 locus regulating macronutrient intake. Physiol Rep 2(3):e12311, 2015.

Gularte-Merida R, DiCarlo LM, Robertson G, Simon J, Johnson WD, Kappen C, Medrano JF, Richards BK. High-resolution mapping of a genetic locus regulating preferential carbohydrate intake, total calories, and food volume on mouse chromosome 17. PLoS ONE, 9(10):e110424, 2014.

Kruger C, Kumar KG, Mynatt RL, Volaufova J, and Richards BK. Brain transcriptional responses to high-fat diet in Acads-deficient mice reveal energy sensing pathways. PLoS ONE,7(8):e41709, 2012.

Berthoud HR, Munzberg H, Richards BK, and Morrison C. Neural and metabolic regulation of macronutrient intake and selection. Proc Nutr Soc, pp 1-11, 2012.

Kumar KG, DiCarlo LM, Volaufova J, Zuberi AR, and Smith Richards BK. Increased physical activity co-segregates with higher intake of carbohydrate and total calories in subcongenic mice. Mammalian Genome 1:52-63, 2010.

Kumar KG and Smith Richards BK. Transcriptional profiling of Chromosome 17 QTL for carbohydrate and total calorie intake in a mouse congenic strain reveals candidate genes and pathways. J Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics, 1:155-171, 2008.

Kumar KG, Byerley L, Volaufova J, Drucker DJ, Churchill GA, Li R, York B, Zuberi A, Smith Richards BK. Genetic variation in Glp1r expression influences the rate of gastric emptying in mice. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol, 294:R362-R371, 2008.

Kumar KG, Poole AC, York B, Volaufova J, Zuberi A, Richards BK. Quantitative trait loci for carbohydrate and total energy intake on mouse Chromosome 17: Congenic strain confirmation and candidate gene analyses (Glo1, Glp1r). Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol, 292(1):R207-16, 2007.
*Article featured in Editorial Focus, Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 292:R204-6, 2007.
*Article in Highlights from the Literature,Physiology 21:378, 2006.

Smith Richards B. and H.-R. Berthoud. Staying slim on a low-GABA diet. Nat Med, 12:504-506, 2006.

Smith Richards BK, Belton BN, York B, Volaufova J. Mice bearing Acads mutation display altered postingestive but not 5-s orosensory response to dietary fat. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 286:R311-9, 2004.

Smith Richards BK, Belton BN, Poole AC, Mancuso JJ, Churchill GA, Li R, Volaufova J, Zuberi A, and York B. QTL analysis of self-selected macronutrient diet intake: fat, carbohydrate, and total kilocalories. Physiol Genomics 11:205-217, 2002.

Smith, BK, Volaufova J and West DB. Increased flavor preference and lick activity for sucrose and corn oil in SWR/J versus AKR/J mice. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 281:R596-606, 2001.

Smith BK, Andrews PK and West DB. Macronutrient self-selection in thirteen mouse strains. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 278:R797-R805, 2000.

Smith, B.K., P.K. Andrews, D.A. York and D.B. West. Divergence in proportional fat intake in AKR/J and SWR/J mice endures across diet paradigms. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 277:R776-R785, 1999. ^ top