Tech UPTechnologyThey discover a new function for the vagus nerve:...

They discover a new function for the vagus nerve: a 'prehistoric GPS'

When you think of a succulent meal that has already been enjoyed, the memories that surround the dish seem to be much more alive, being easy to locate the place where everything happened or the path that led to the longed-for delicacy. Food is the fuel of the brain, and it seems that now it is also the fuel of memory.

A new study published by the University of Southern California (USC) indicates that the so-called ‘visceral instinct’, produced by the vagus nerve to indicate to the brain that the food intake is sufficient and the stomach is full, could also have served as “prehistoric GPS” so that our ancestors could orient themselves and find food. The results obtained by the team led by Scott Kanoski, professor of Biological Sciences at USC and author of the work , seem to indicate that the vagus nerve would send information to the region of the brain responsible for memory, the hippocampus. Following these conclusions, a new function for this nerve would be confirmed in addition to sending biochemical signals to the brain to stop food intake.

The proposal from which the research is based is that, when obtaining food depended on hunting, the connection between the stomach and the brain would allow the environment where the food had been obtained to be more easily remembered; thus allowing to return to the same place. According to Kanoski, “when an animal feeds, the vagus nerve is activated and turns on this global positioning system” , being a great advantage the fact of remembering where food has been found and thus making it easier to find it again.

Memories of the palate

The research was carried out with rats and during the process it was observed that those that did not have the connection between the intestine and the brain through the vagus nerve, were not able to remember information about their environment. Andrea Suárez, PhD in Biological Sciences, declared that “deficiencies in memory dependent on the hippocampus were found by cutting the connection between the intestine and the brain”, to which we should add harmful neurobiological results in the same region.

In addition, this disconnection caused deficiencies in brain markers responsible for the creation of new neural connections and the growth of new brain cells , affecting these. According to the researchers, no alterations in weight or appetite were observed in animals that did not have such a connection.

This new information raises unknowns that directly affect medical treatments such as bariatric surgeries or therapies that block the gut-brain connection as a method to lose weight that would produce other harmful effects unknown until now. According to the results of this study, this type of weight loss techniques could have serious consequences, damaging the hippocampus and, therefore, affecting memory.

Reference: Andrea N. Suárez, Ted M. Hsu, Clarissa M. Liu, Emily E. Noble, Alyssa M. Cortella, Emily M. Nakamoto, Joel D. Hahn, Guillaume de Lartigue & Scott E Kanoski: ‘Gut vagal sensory signaling regulates hippocampus function through multi-order pathways’. Nature Communications, 2018, doi: 10.17605 / OSF.IO / UYMBQ

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