Early nutrition influences what we like to eat

Early nutrition influences what we like to eat

Food preferences arise as a consequence of food experience and shape eating habits and cultural identity.

A study by researchers at Stony Brook University showed that there is, in fact, a strong relationship between what we eat in the first few years of life, as infants or young children, and food preferences in adults. This relationship depends on the effects that our first experience with food has on the brain.

The research, published in Science Advances, highlights the importance of early exposure to a variety of flavors and identifies the neural basis that regulates preferences for favorite foods, providing important new insights into the relationship between nutrition and brain function.

Previous research of human infants hinted at the effect of early taste experience on food preference later in life. However, no previous studies have examined the neural bases of this phenomenon. This study analyzes the neural bases of taste preference and provides findings that could serve as a basis for understanding the neural processes involved in taste preference.

Using a mouse model, the research team from the Renaissance School of Medicine’s Department of Neurobiology and Behavior exposed groups of mice to a variety of flavor solutions for one week. Groups were challenged as weanlings (early challenge) or as adults (late challenge). After a week of experiencing a variety of flavors, the groups returned to their regular diet, which contains balanced nutrients but is not rich in flavor. For comparison, a control group of mice was raised on only the milder regular diet.

Several weeks after exposing the groups to the week-long flavor variety, the researchers measured preference for a sweet solution compared to water. Mice that experienced a variety of tastes early in life had a higher preference for sweet tastes in adulthood compared to the control group. This preference change was dependent on a combination of taste, smell, and gut-to-brain signals, and was specific to early exposure taste. Mice exposed to the variety of flavors as adults showed no different sweet preferences than their age-matched control group. These results indicated that taste experience influences preference, but only if it occurs within a restricted time window.

The researchers also recorded the activity of neurons in the taste cortex of all the subjects. This part of the brain is involved in the perception of taste and decisions about eating or rejecting food. The recorded activity showed that the change in sweet preference was associated with differences in the activity of inhibitory neurons from adult mice.

The research team injected a substance into the taste cortex that breaks down perineuronal networks, which are networks of proteins that accumulate around inhibitory neurons early in life. Once established, these networks play a key role in limiting plasticity, the ability to change in response to stimuli at inhibitory synapses.

When adult mice without perineuronal networks in the taste cortex were exposed to the flavor variety, they showed a similar change in sweet preference as the group exposed earlier in life. This manipulation “rejuvenated” inhibitory synapses in the taste cortex and restored plasticity in response to taste experience, confirming the importance of maturation and plasticity in inhibitory circuitry for the development of taste preference in the experimental model.

Although the study was conducted in mice, the results inform scientists about fundamental biological aspects of taste experiences that extend beyond animal models and humans.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent News

Editor's Pick