GSU professors investigate how memory impacts eating

Photo Courtesy by Jesse Orrico

Dr. Marise Parent, professor and associate director of the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State, has received a three-year, $1.2 million federal grant to study how specific brain areas are involved in memory control eating behavior.

In a study conducted back in 2015, researchers concluded that a meal consisting of a sweetened solution, such as cake or pie, significantly increased the likelihood of a individual continuing to eat more sugary snacks.

The main culprit here is synaptic plasticity, which is a process that is necessary for making memories. Synaptic plasticity lays the foundation for memories to begin to take control of eating habits.

The grant for this current project comes from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health and will be used to explore how the hippocampus, a brain structure that is critical for memory and learning, inhibits eating behavior at a biochemical level.

Dr. Parent is the lead principal investigator for the project. However, there are more Georgia State faculty involved.The assembled team for this project includes Dr. Daniel Cox, associate professor in the Neuroscience Institute, Dr. Aaron Roseberry, associate professor in the Department of Biology, and Dr. Ryan LaLumiere, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences from the University of Iowa.

In addition, the overall goal of the project is to identify new pharmacological and behavioral strategies for treating diet-induced obesity and other eating-related disorders.

The hippocampus is associated mainly with memory, specifically long-term memory. It’s part of the limbic system, which is associated with the functions of feeling and reacting.

There are other goals that Parent and the team are working toward. These goals included factors that cause individuals to eat excessively, and how the brain controls focuses on need-based and pleasure-based controls in the human body.

“We are trying to increase our understanding of how the brain controls eating behavior, particularly the factors that cause us to start eating and those that help us stop. Most research on how the brain controls eating focuses on homeostatic (need-based) and hedonic (pleasure-based) controls and we believe that a complete understanding must include cognitive controls, such as memory,” Parent said.

Parent has shown great interest in the project dating back to 2010. She submitted several applications to the NIDDKD of the National Institutes of Health before she was successfully funded.

“I have a long-standing interest in the neuroscience of memory and became interested in how nutrition affects brain function. I discovered, for instance, that overconsumption of fructose impairs memory that is dependent on a brain region critical for memory called the hippocampus,” Parent said.

Parent’s curiosity drove her to wonder more about how the brain’s memory is related to eating behavior.

“This led me to wonder why a brain area critical for memory would also be in a position to influence eating,” Parent said.

She added that other researchers have also shown that impairing the memory of a meal increases the amount eaten at the next time of eating, and enhancing meal-related memory has the opposite effect.

Parent and the team will continue their current research to increase their understanding of how the brain can really control eating behavior.