Animal models

Taste loss with obesity in mice and men

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Our sense of taste is critical in defining our food choices and habits. Located primarily in our tongue, taste buds are small assemblies of constantly renewing sensory cells, tasked with evaluating oral stimuli before the food we eat is consumed.


Using both mice and a free-living human population, we tracked taste papilla abundancy with weight gain, to test for deficiencies in the taste system of obese mice and humans with increased adiposity.


Mice fed a high-fat diet for 8 weeks expressed markers for all subtypes of taste cells at a lower level than chow-fed counterparts. This came alongside the loss of markers for taste cell proliferation (Ki-67) and development (β-catenin), as well as lower fungiform papillae density, consistent with earlier results showing lower circumvallate taste bud abundance in obese mice. Likewise, in a population of college students tracked through 4 years of college attendance, the change in density of fungiform papillae, which house taste buds in the anterior tongue, was negatively correlated with change in neck circumference, a marker of adiposity.


These results highlight changes in taste during weight gain as a potentially important consideration in the study of obesity.

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This work was supported in part by the grant 17GRNT33411094 from the American Heart Association. The funder had no role in study design, data collection, analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Robin Dando.

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