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How obesity makes it harder to taste

Inflammation linked to the disease caused the loss of taste buds in mice

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2:00pm, March 20, 2018
progenitor cells

BYE BYE BUDS  Mice that became obese on a high-fat diet (right) lost a quarter of their taste buds (stained red) and also had fewer progenitor cells (stained green) — which give rise to new taste buds — than mice of a healthy weight on a regular diet (left).

As mice plumped up on a high-fat diet, some of their taste buds vanished. This disappearing act could explain why some people with obesity seem to have a weakened sense of taste, which may compel them to eat more.

Compared with siblings that were fed normal mouse chow, mice given high-fat meals lost about 25 percent of their taste buds over eight weeks. Buds went missing because mature taste bud cells died off more quickly, and fewer new cells developed to take their place. Chronic, low-level inflammation associated with obesity appears to be behind the loss, researchers report March 20 in PLOS Biology.

Taste buds, each a collection of 50 to 100 cells, sense whether a food is sweet, sour, bitter, salty or umami (savory). These cells help identify safe and nourishing food, and stimulate reward centers in the brain. The tongue’s taste bud population is renewed

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