Shorter-lived neural taste representations in obese compared to lean individuals

Sci Rep. 2018 Jul 23;8(1):11027. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-28847-3.


Previous attempts to uncover a relation between taste processing and weight status have yielded inconclusive results leaving it unclear whether lean and obese individuals process taste differently, and whether group differences reflect differential sensory encoding or evaluative and reward processing. Here, we present the first comparison of dynamic neural processing as assessed by gustatory evoked potentials in obese and lean individuals. Two supra-threshold concentrations of sweet and salty tastants as well as two sizes of blue and green squares were presented to 30 lean (BMI 18.5-25) and 25 obese (BMI > 30) individuals while recording head-surface electroencephalogram (EEG). Multivariate pattern analyses (MVPA) revealed differential taste quality representations from 130 ms until after stimulus offset. Notably, taste representations faded earlier and exhibited a reduced strength in the obese compared to the lean group; temporal generalization analysis indicated otherwise similar taste processing. Differences in later gustatory response patterns even allowed decoding of group membership. Importantly, group differences were absent for visual processing thereby excluding confounding effects from anatomy or signal-to-noise ratio alone. The latency of observed effects is consistent with memory maintenance rather than sensory encoding of taste, thereby suggesting that later evaluative aspects of taste processing are altered in obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Taste Perception / physiology*
  • Thinness / physiopathology
  • Young Adult