Neurophysiology of Primate Food Choice: Linking Ecology to Neural Computation

Year of award: 2021


  • Dr Fabian Grabenhorst

    University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Project summary

Preferences for sugar and fat are near universal and contribute to obesity. Additionally, human food choices are sophisticated and individualistic: we choose by evaluating a food's nutrients and sensory features, and trading them against quantity and cost. To understand the neural mechanisms behind human-like food choices, we record single-cell activity from the brain?s reward system in monkeys choosing preferred foods with specific nutrient and sensory components. These experiments identify dynamic, millisecond-precise food-choice computations in individual neurons. We use neuroimaging in human volunteers to translate our detailed single-cell findings to more broadly defined human brain-networks. We non-invasively and reversibly modulate neural activity to determine which brain areas are particularly important for food choice. Importantly, the same brain systems that assign value to foods are also implicated in human behavioural and mental-health disorders. By understanding their functions in food choice, we advance understanding of how they dysfunction in diseases, including eating disorders.