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FSU neuroscientist awarded $1.8 million NIH grant to study brain’s influence on eating habits

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Roberto Vincis, assistant professor of biological sciences and neurosciences. (Florida State University)

A researcher from the Florida State University Neuroscience Program has received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how the brain encodes information about food and how that information affects eating habits and food choices of an individual.

Roberto Vincis, assistant professor of biological sciences and neurosciences, will lead the five-year, NIH National Institute-funded study of deafness and other communication disorders, focusing on the role of different regions of the brain and how their interactions contribute to the sense of taste.

“Based on previous research, we understand that eating habits start with how the brain encodes information about what we eat,” Vincis said. “Sometimes these habits lead to problematic eating behaviors down the road, such as eating disorders or obesity. Our research should shed light on how the brain controls food intake and eating behaviors by studying the circuits neural and computational brain regions involved in taste and reward processing.

Human brains constantly receive sensory information from the outside world and calculate the sensory information in relation to the individual’s own experience, such as their background, behavioral state, and times they may have encountered that same sensory information. The brain uses this information to build a perception of what the individual is experiencing.

“Our previous research, on which this grant builds, investigated the cortical processing of various characteristics of taste; we have developed an experimental design to collect and analyze behavioral and neural responses regarding taste,” said Cecilia Bouaichi, PhD student in neuroscience and research assistant at the Vincis laboratory.

When we eat and drink, our brain receives information about the food and drink in our mouth. One of the inputs is taste and its qualities such as salty, sweet or sour which are activated by chemicals in food and drink when they bind to receptors in our mouth and tongue. The pleasure component of taste is simultaneously activated and helps us determine whether we like food, Vincis explained.

The brain processes information from the oral cavity based on these components and the individual’s background and behaviors. One experience is often enough to develop specific eating habits, such as a preference or dislike for certain foods.

Weather and other factors such as illness or hunger can also affect how the brain senses a specific taste. Taste buds also regenerate every two weeks, which means an individual’s preferences can change over time, which explains, for example, why adults may enjoy certain foods they hated as children. .

This study focuses on both behavior and neural activity while individuals consume food. The research team believe this study will help scientists better understand how different parts of the brain interact while people eat and how the brain encodes taste information.

“Because our decisions are driven by information calculated by our brain, if there is a problem in any of these brain regions, it can lead to impulsive behavior like choosing to do something even knowing that it is. will have negative consequences,” Vincis said. . “Eating disorders and other negative eating habits arise due to the brain’s improper integration of sensory information or behavioral information.”