Learning of food preferences: mechanisms and implications for obesity & metabolic diseases

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Omnivores, including rodents and humans, compose their diets from a wide variety of potential foods. Beyond the guidance of a few basic orosensory biases such as attraction to sweet and avoidance of bitter, they have limited innate dietary knowledge and must learn to prefer foods based on their flavors and postoral effects. This review focuses on postoral nutrient sensing and signaling as an essential part of the reward system that shapes preferences for the associated flavors of foods. We discuss the extensive array of sensors in the gastrointestinal system and the vagal pathways conveying information about ingested nutrients to the brain. Earlier studies of vagal contributions were limited by nonselective methods that could not easily distinguish the contributions of subsets of vagal afferents. Recent advances in technique have generated substantial new details on sugar- and fat-responsive signaling pathways. We explain methods for conditioning flavor preferences and their use in evaluating gut-brain communication. The SGLT1 intestinal sugar sensor is important in sugar conditioning; the critical sensors for fat are less certain, though GPR40 and 120 fatty acid sensors have been implicated. Ongoing work points to particular vagal pathways to brain reward areas. An implication for obesity treatment is that bariatric surgery may alter vagal function.

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International journal of obesity (2005)

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