How does our brain interpret food signals — a process that influences the impact of diet on health and aging. Scientists have now deciphered the neural code involved.
In animal experiments, researchers from King's College London and engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, in the US, found that levels of brain chemical serotonin and a growth hormone known as TGF-beta communicate information about food abundance.
These signals from the nervous system influence the animal's lifespan, thus mediating the effects of food on ageing.
"It is the first time neural gene expression has been analyzed with this level of detail in a multi-cellular animal," said QueeLim Ch'ng, senior co-author of the study
Most people think about electrical activity when they think about encoding information in the nervous system.
"Our work shows that gene expression is an important, but virtually unexplored aspect of information processing in the nervous system," Ch'ng noted.
The perception of food by the nervous system impacts not just aging but also other processes associated with health and disease, including metabolism, reproduction and development.
Both serotonin and TGF-beta pathways have been implicated in diverse human diseases, including cancer, mental disorders, diabetes and obesity.
The study was published in the journal eLife