Janina Seubert’s research group
The nutritional neuroscience group investigates the perceptual experiences associated with eating. We study odor and taste perception during anticipation and consumption of food, their effects on memory and learning as well as emotion and motivation, and their regulation by metabolic feedback.
The goal of our research is to fill the knowledge gap that currently exists between the mechanisms driving perceptual experiences during food consumption and the subsequent evaluation of food in the outside world, and inspire the development of novel interventions to facilitate dietary changes over the life course in health and disease.
ERC Starting Grant OLFLINK
Human food consumption habits globally pose a significant threat to public health and ecological sustainability. Awareness of the urgency for large-scale global changes has recently been growing substantially; yet, overcoming preferences for familiar food flavors in favor of healthier or more sustainable options remains a major challenge. The high intrinsic reward value of taste, especially sugar and salt, is generally blamed for the resistance of humans to change their food preferences. There is, however, a fundamental lack of knowledge about the perceptual and emotional mechanisms that link these reward experiences during consumption to the identification of desirable food items before consumption, which ultimately drive our appetite and our dietary decisions. OLFLINK, will consolidate recent conceptual advances in chemosensory research into a common theoretical framework:
- We will determine the distributed code by which odors acquire and evoke taste associations.
- We will delineate the cortical control mechanisms that facilitate the retrieval of this neural code
- We will define the interactions with digestive feedback that regulate this circuitry
Perceptual decision-making about food flavor in the mouth, and its role in food intake regulation
Every time we eat, we evaluate the flavor of the food in our mouth: is it a safe source of energy that should be swallowed, or a potential health threat that should be spit out? Getting this simple decision right is crucial for survival, because it allows us to maintain the balance between sufficient calorie intake on the one hand, and avoidance of accidental poisoning on the other. It is well established that we accept foods when their flavor fits a familiar and expected object, and reject them when it does not. How we decide whether a flavor belongs to a specific object, however, and which brain processes regulate these decisions, remains to date poorly understood. This project will explore the perceptual and the brain processes that allow us to classify olfactory-gustatory percepts in the mouth into stable object categories. Taken together, the knowledge gained from this project will provide us with important insights into the psychological mechanisms that control our perception of the food we eat, and how we use this information to regulate the desire for eating in specific situations in everyday life.
Dysregulated Anticipatory Reward Processing in Eating Disorders
Eating disorders have high morbidity and mortality and outcome, especially in anorexia nervosa, is poor, in part due to incomplete understanding of their underlying neurobiology. Neurobiological factors could thwart interventions by affecting the automatic elicitation of reward seeking behavior to food. Odor perception, a key elicitor of responses to foods, could provide novel insights into disturbances of brain reward circuitry in eating disorders. In this collaboration with Cynthia Bulik at the Centre for Eating Disorders Innovation (CEDI), we explore dysregulated food odor processing in binge eating disorder (uncontrolled overeating)
Lundström JN, Regenbogen C, Ohla K, Seubert J (2019): Prefrontal Control Over Occipital Responses to Crossmodal Overlap Varies Across the Congruency Spectrum. Cereb Cortex, 29(7):3023-3033
Fondberg R, Lundström JN, Blöchl M, Olsson MJ, Seubert J (2018): Multisensory flavor perception: The relationship between congruency, pleasantness, and odor referral to the mouth. Appetite;125:244-252
Seubert J, Laukka EJ, Rizzuto D, Hummel T, Fratiglioni L, Bäckman L, Larsson M (2017): Prevalence and Correlates of Olfactory Dysfunction in Old Age: A Population-Based Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci., 72(8):1072-1079.
Seubert J, Ohla K, Yokomukai Y, Kellermann T, Lundström JN (2015): Superadditivity during flavor perception is modulated by temporo-limbic neuronal coupling. Human Brain Mapping, 36(5), 1662-76.
Seubert J, Freiherr J, Frasnelli J, Hummel T, Lundström JN (2013): Orbitofrontal cortex and olfactory bulb volume predict distinct aspects of olfactory performance in healthy subjects. Cerebral Cortex, 23(10):2448-56.