Physiological and nutritional state can modify sensory ability and perception through hormone signaling. Obesity and related metabolic disorders present a chronic imbalance in hormonal signaling that could impact sensory systems. In the olfactory system, external chemical cues are transduced into electrical signals to encode information. It is becoming evident that this system can also detect internal chemical cues in the form of molecules of energy homeostasis and endocrine hormones, whereby neurons of the olfactory system are modulated to change animal behavior towards olfactory cues. We hypothesized that chronic imbalance in hormonal signaling and energy homeostasis due to obesity would thereby disrupt olfactory behaviors in mice. To test this idea, we utilized three mouse models of varying body weight, metabolic hormones, and visceral adiposity - 1) C57BL6/J mice maintained on a condensed-milk based, moderately high-fat diet (MHF) of 32% fat for 6 months as the diet-induced obesity model, 2) an obesity-resistant, lean line of mice due to a gene-targeted deletion of a voltage-dependent potassium channel (Kv 1.3-null), and 3) a genetic model of obesity as a result of a gene-targeted deletion of the melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R-null). Diet-induced obese (DIO) mice failed to find a fatty-scented hidden peanut butter cracker, based solely on olfactory cues, any faster than an unscented hidden marble, initially suggesting general anosmia. However, when these DIO mice were challenged to find a sweet-scented hidden chocolate candy, they had no difficulty. Furthermore, DIO mice were able to discriminate between fatty acids that differ by a single double bond and are components of the MHF diet (linoleic and oleic acid) in a habituation-dishabituation paradigm. Obesity-resistant, Kv1.3-null mice exhibited no change in scented object retrieval when placed on the MHF-diet, nor did they perform differently than wild-type mice in parallel habituation-dishabituation paradigms of fatty food-related odor components. Genetically obese, MC4R-null mice successfully found hidden scented objects, but did so more slowly than lean, wild-type mice, in an object-dependent fashion. In habituation-dishabituation trials of general odorants, MC4R-null mice failed to discriminate a novel odor, but were able to distinguish two fatty acids. Object memory recognition tests for short- and long-term memory retention demonstrated that maintenance on the MHF diet did not modify the ability to perform these tasks independent of whether mice became obese or were resistant to weight gain (Kv1.3-null), however, the genetically predisposed obese mice (MC4R-null) failed the long-term object memory recognition performed at 24h. These results demonstrate that even though both the DIO mice and genetically predisposed obese mice are obese, they vary in the degree to which they exhibit behavioral deficits in odor detection, odor discrimination, and long-term memory.
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