RePi - Reinforcement learning from post ingestive rewards

The ability to obtain food from the environment is fundamental for animal survival. To achieve this, animals must choose which food sources are better to fulfill their homeostatic needs, and select, adaptively, the actions that lead to them.

To solve this problem, animals rely not only on the sensory information generally available in the world, but also on specific information obtained from food. This information is composed by pre-ingestive sensory signals like smell, taste and texture, jointly referred to as ‘flavor’, but also of post-ingestive signals like nutrient detection in the intestine and metabolic and humoral changes resulting from nutrient absorption. Pre-ingestive information is quickly conveyed to the brain as we see, smell and taste food. Post-ingestive information takes more time to reach the brain, because food needs to be swallowed and eventually digested and absorbed before nutrients reach the nervous system or produce hormonal changes.

In this project we join efforts with the Neuropsychiatry Group to understand the specific contributions of pre and post-ingestive stimulus in shaping food-seeking behavior, and which neural circuits are involved.

Proper regulation of feeding behavior is essential for well-being. Understanding what underlies our decisions regarding food can have a major impact on how we approach eating disorders or health problems in general, which can be influenced by diet. For example, the high sugar and fat content of processed foods may tap into reward circuits with deleterious changes in food-seeking behavior. Our work will help to clarify this, giving rise to knowledge that can be used to promote healthier eating.

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