Short-term consumption of highly processed diets varying in macronutrient content impair the sense of smell and brain metabolism in mice

Mol Metab. 2024 Jan:79:101837. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2023.101837. Epub 2023 Nov 17.


Objective: Food processing greatly contributed to increased food safety, diversity, and accessibility. However, the prevalence of highly palatable and highly processed food in our modern diet has exacerbated obesity rates and contributed to a global health crisis. While accumulating evidence suggests that chronic consumption of such foods is detrimental to sensory and neural physiology, it is unclear whether its short-term intake has adverse effects. Here, we assessed how short-term consumption (<2 months) of three diets varying in composition and macronutrient content influence olfaction and brain metabolism in mice.

Methods: The diets tested included a grain-based standard chow diet (CHOW; 54% carbohydrate, 32% protein, 14% fat; #8604 Teklad Rodent diet , Envigo Inc.), a highly processed control diet (hpCTR; 70% carbohydrate, 20% protein, 10% fat; #D12450B, Research Diets Inc.), and a highly processed high-fat diet (hpHFD; 20% carbohydrate, 20% protein, 60% fat; #D12492, Research Diets Inc.). We performed behavioral and metabolic phenotyping, electro-olfactogram (EOG) recordings, brain glucose metabolism imaging, and mitochondrial respirometry in different brain regions. We also performed RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) in the nose and across several brain regions, and conducted differential expression analysis, gene ontology, and network analysis.

Results: We show that short-term consumption of the two highly processed diets, but not the grain-based diet, regardless of macronutrient content, adversely affects odor-guided behaviors, physiological responses to odorants, transcriptional profiles in the olfactory mucosa and brain regions, and brain glucose metabolism and mitochondrial respiration.

Conclusions: Even short periods of highly processed food consumption are sufficient to cause early olfactory and brain abnormalities, which has the potential to alter food choices and influence the risk of developing metabolic disease.

Keywords: Diet; Highly processed food; Metabolism; Obesity; Olfaction.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain
  • Carbohydrates
  • Diet, High-Fat*
  • Glucose
  • Mice
  • Nutrients
  • Smell*


  • Carbohydrates
  • Glucose