Published on 8th April 2019


A delicious aroma might get the mouth watering but, according to new research, anticipating food could also prepare the liver for work.

In a study on mice, published in Cell, it was found that within five minutes of the mice perceiving food, changes to the liver occurred that are associated with taking up amino acids from digested food.

“This finding changes our view of one of the most fundamental processes in the body,” said senior author Jens Brüning, an endocrinologist, geneticist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne, Germany. “The perception of food in the brain activates the liver in such a way that it begins preparing to receive the nutrients that it expects to come.”

The researchers say the findings have potential implications for learning about the connections between obesity and diabetes, specifically by looking at the effects of ‘protein folding’ on insulin release. Protein folding is a physical process in which a protein structure takes on its functional shape — and so enables the protein to perform its biological function.

“There’s a possibility that this food sensory-dependent priming of the liver may be compromised in obesity. It could be a mechanism that contributes to insulin resistance,” said Brüning. “Obesity may leave the liver unprepared for protein folding after eating, which in turn could disrupt the normal insulin response. This is something we plan to look at in future studies using obesity models in mice.”

The researchers also plan to look at insulin sensitivity in human volunteers who see and smell food but do not eat it.



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