Dietary decisions play a vital role in the progression of a number of human conditions (obesity, diabetes, anorexia, hypertension, coronary artery disease, etc.), and arguably the most important factor regulating these decisions is the sense of taste. New research from University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) scientists John D. Boughter, Jr., PhD, and Max Fletcher, PhD, explores how this important sensory system is organized in the brain, and how it works to modify behavioral patterns.
“The general idea is that it’s a project to map sensory representation in the cortex,” said Dr. Boughter, associate professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology at UTHSC. The duo is accomplishing this aim by using a cutting-edge brain imaging technique called two-photon imaging with animal models, recording a mouse’s brain activity as it tastes and feeds. “This is basically a technique that allows you to look at individual neurons and how they respond to stimuli in real-time, and do it in a very spatially precise manner,” said Dr. Boughter.
Their project, entitled “Spatial taste coding in mouse gustatory cortex,” has received a five-year $2.27 million grant through the National Institutes of Health.
The part of the brain Drs. Boughter and Fletcher are focusing on, the gustatory cortex, is extremely difficult to access. Located on the lateral surface of the brain, the gustatory cortex is a region where the sense of taste and its reactive neurons are stored. What’s more, Boughter and Fletcher are on the forefront of this research, as at the time of their grant submission, only one other paper had been published on the topic.
The clinical significance of this research is that it should provide important clues into how eating and feeding behavior are organized in the brain. “Understanding how information is organized and encoded there hopefully will give us some really good insights into the function of this part of the cortex and how exactly its related to eating behavior in humans,” said Dr. Boughter.