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"Best-Taste Scenario" -- The Discovery Files

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Johns Hopkins University neuroscientists have found that a brain region -- the ventral pallidum -- appears to be strongly connected to food preference decisions. Researchers found robust neural activity related to food choice in this previously overlooked part of the brain, suggesting this spot could be key to developing therapies and treatments to encourage healthy eating.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Best-taste scenario.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Buffets, potlucks, restaurants, the refrigerator. What to eat? And how much? Johns Hopkins University neuroscientists have found there's a previously overlooked part of the brain that's connected with picking one food choice over another. Long associated with pleasure and reward, it's known as the ventral pallidum. I like to call it: (Sound effect: twilight zone type music) "the I-like zone".

Their tests involved giving rats two sugary drinks -- one containing sucrose, one with maltodextrin. The rats love the sucrose and when they get it, lick it faster. (Sound effect: tiny slurps) For several days the scientists gave them one drink or the other and studied brain activity at the exact time the rats realized which one they were getting.

Neurons in the "I-like zone" lit up for the sucrose but when the rats got the malto -- not so much. To change it up, the team tested plain water versus the maltodextrin drink. Now, the malto fired up the neurons, just like the sucrose drink had. So, the rats' brains are signaling the preferred option of what's there at the moment.

The researchers say the study suggests the ventral pallidum could be the key to developing therapies and treatments to encourage healthy eating.

My all-time fav is chocolate ice cream but next time, just to mess with my brain, I'm gonna order the sardine-praline crunch. (Sound effect: Crunchy chewing)

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