One of today’s most effective surgical methods for treating obesity is Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. The procedure limits the amount of food and drink that can be ingested at one time and the amount of calories and nutrients absorbed through the intestinal tract. An unintended side effect of RYGB surgery is that it reduces the patient’s taste for sweet and fatty foods.
There is no scientific explanation for why these taste changes occur.
UGA researchers will lead a collaborative four-year study aimed at understanding the neurological mechanisms responsible for these changes in taste following RYGB surgery and also diet-induced obesity. Their work is being funded by a $2.48 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
“Understanding how the signals from our gut to our brain are altered by both diet-induced obesity and RYGB will lead us to new treatments for effective weight loss,” said Dr. Krzysztof Czaja, the project’s lead investigator and an associate professor of neuroanatomy in UGA’s College Veterinary Medicine. “In addition, we will have a greater understanding as to why RYGB is an effective surgical treatment for obesity.”
Based on their previous work, Czaja and his collaborators believe that damage to the vagus nerve unleashes a cascade of metabolic events that result in altered signals sent by the gut to the brain, including how the brain encodes tastes and satiety. Their study, “Vagal Influence on Brainstem Plasticity and Neural Coding of Taste,” will test their theory and also link the changes that occur during synaptic remodeling.
The research is supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health under award number 1R01DC01390401. The team includes researchers from Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York, and Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pennsylvania.
Obesity is a mounting threat to global public health and a contributing factor to many diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.