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Food Associations: Neural Connections of Love & Hate

Summary: Your neurons will guide you toward eating foods that have brought you pleasure.
Air Date: 4/13/16
Duration: 10 Minutes
Host: Dr. Mike Fenster
Guest Bio: Michael Kavanaugh, PhD
Dr.-Michael-KavanaughAfter completing undergraduate work in Biology at Washington University in St. Louis in 1982, Michael Kavanaugh received his Ph.D. from the Oregon Health Sciences University in 1987. He pursued a postdoctoral fellowship at the Vollum Institute at OHSU and joined the Vollum faculty in 1993. Kavanaugh joined the University of Montana in January 2003, where he directs the Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience. He teaches graduate and undergraduate neuroscience students, and runs an NIH-funded research program focused on neurotransmitter transporters, synaptic transmission and synaptic plasticity. He is also involved in K-12 education in neuroscience.
Food Associations: Neural Connections of Love & Hate
The frontal cortex of the brain helps you recognize what you're tasting when you eat. Humans have nearly 100 kinds of receptors in the palate that communicate to the frontal cortex.

You probably grew up hearing about four tastes: salty, sweet, sour and bitter. A fifth has been discovered. Umami is the taste associated with savory food and is activated by MSG, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce.

The nose receptors are very developed in humans, even more in mice and dogs. Holding your nose when you eat prevents you from experiencing the full flavor. Your neurons help you recognize and classify food, using memories and associations to classify different foods as tasty or terrible. These memories and associations are strong and will drive you toward (or turn you away) from various foods.

Your tastes may change over time... but not because of molecular changes in the palate. The way you process the information in your cortex changes over time. There are changeable connections between neurons that might be long lasting. If something has an impact on you that you remember, those connections in your brain are strengthened.

Listen in as Dr. Michael Kavanaugh joins Dr. Mike at University of Montana's Innovators and Trailblazers Symposium to discuss the neural reasoning behind food selection.

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