Metabolic Sensing in Brain Dopamine Systems
The gustatory system allows the brain to monitor the presence of chemicals in the oral cavity and initiate appropriate responses of acceptance or rejection. Among such chemicals are the nutrients that must be rapidly recognized and ingested for immediate oxidation or storage. In the periphery, the gustatory system consists of a highly efficient sensing mechanism, where distinct cell types express receptors that bind specifically to chemicals associated with one particular taste quality. These specialized receptors connect to the brain via dedicated pathways, the stimulation of which triggers stereotypic behavioral responses as well as neurotransmitter release in brain reward dopamine systems. However, evidence also exists in favor of the concept that the critical regulators of long-term nutrient choice are physiological processes taking place after ingestion and independently of gustation. We will appraise the hypothesis that organisms can develop preferences for nutrients independently of oral taste stimulation. Of particular interest are recent findings indicating that disrupting nutrient utilization interferes with activity in brain dopamine pathways. These findings establish the metabolic fate of nutrients as previously unanticipated reward signals that regulate the reinforcing value of foods. In particular, it suggests a role for brain dopamine reward systems as metabolic sensors, allowing for signals generated by the metabolic utilization of nutrients to regulate neurotransmitter release and food reinforcement.
We thank Prof Dietmar Richter for editorial assistance and Theddy Gonçalves for Fig.1.
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