Neurophysiology of nutrient rewards in monkeys and humans

Year of award: 2017


  • Dr Fabian Grabenhorst

    University of Cambridge

Project summary

How do we decide what to eat? Why do we like some foods more than others – and sometimes consume too much of them? Every day, we make plans to pursue and consume our favourite foods. Specific nutrients, such as fats and sugars, are particularly effective rewards that provide us with necessary calories but also contribute to obesity.

We will investigate the brain mechanisms of sophisticated eating behaviours typical of primates that are directed toward specific nutrients. We will study information processing in individual neurons as monkeys form decisions and consumption plans for prospective nutrient rewards and learn nutrient values from social partners and model partners’ choices. In closely related neuroimaging experiments, we will study brain activity in humans with the same foods and behaviours, to advance the detailed single-cell findings to brain networks, individual differences and real-life eating preferences. We will combine the data to build biologically realistic computer simulations of brain systems to explain food intake in terms of neural information processing.

To our knowledge, this is the only translational neurophysiology project worldwide focusing on primates’ food intake mechanisms. Understanding these mechanisms is not only a fundamental biological question but also has implications for understanding overeating and obesity.