According to the study, the findings could enable scientists to develop new treatments for serious medical conditions related to eating behaviors.
Removing Cravings For Sugary or Sweet Foods
In the new study published in the scientific journal Nature on May 30, scientists from Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University in New York conducted a number of experiments, which used mice to study the emotional center of the brain known as "amygdala," and its connection to the primary gustatory cortex.
The amygdala is an almond-shaped set of neurons situated deep within the temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. It is known to perform a key role in the processing of emotional responses, memory, and decision-making.
The primary gustatory cortex, on the other hand, is part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for the perception of taste. Based on a previous study, the scientists discovered that the amygdala has separate regions just like the gustatory cortex. It has a sweet region and also a bitter region.
Turning Sweetness Into Bitter Taste
In one of the experiments, the scientists tried to adjust the way the gustatory cortex and the amygdala communicated with one another. When they turned on the neurons associated with sweetness, they saw something very interesting. The mice reacted to plain water as though it was sweet.
What's more, the scientists were able to alter the perception of taste in the animals by making similar types of adjustments. They managed to trick the mouse's brain into perceiving the sweetness of sugar as unpleasant and the bitterness as pleasant.
"It would be like taking a bite of your favorite chocolate cake but not deriving any enjoyment from doing so," said Li Wang, the first author of the study and a postdoctoral research scientist in the Zuker lab. "After a few bites, you may stop eating, whereas otherwise you would have scarfed it down."
According to the scientists, the new findings could lead to the development of new treatments for eating disorders such as obesity, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa. The new method, however, has yet to be tested in humans.
Common eating disorders include obesity, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
In the United States, obesity has been increasingly cited as a major health problem in recent decades, resulting in serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.