“The treasures of France; I love Patisseries!” one of my friends of French origin exclaimed when he discovered that I had been taking full advantage of the fact that nearly every street corner of Paris is occupied by a Boulangerie, or bakery. “Window shopping” in Paris is not limited to its boutiques; in fact, what really catches my eye when walking down the street are the rows of colorful macaroons, tartes and a number of other mouth-watering pastries. However, the real reason why I’m in France is not for the pastries, although they are a delightful perk to the trip, but is to study neuroscience through Emory University. With class from 9:30am to 1:30pm, the other students on my program and I take full advantage of our hour lunch break. We have made ourselves regulars at a nearby bakery and devour their enormous baguette-sandwiches nearly every day; but perhaps even more intriguing than their sandwiches are their desserts. A friend of mine and I, each having an extremely dedicated sweet tooth, have set out to try every pastry, cookie, cake, and dessert sold by our favorite bakery. Although this may seem like a daunting task, we are now four days into our endeavor and have already sampled about a quarter of the treats offered at our bakery.
Now, being an avidly interested neuroscience student, it wouldn’t be right to discuss such amazing sensory perceptions without giving credit to the nervous system. Endocannabinoids are chemical compounds produced by the human body that act in certain areas of the brain to stimulate appetite and food intake. Yoshida et al. (2010) studied two different groups of mice, one normal group which had the receptor for endocannabinoids, and one which had been genetically altered to lack the receptor for endocannabinoids. The lack of receptor in the second group prevents the group from being able to experience the effects of endocannabinoids. The group of researchers administered cannabinoids, synthetically made endocannabinoids, to both groups of mice and found that in those mice with endocannabinoid receptors, behavioral responses to sweet compounds increased and the response of taste receptor cells on the back of their tongues to tasting sweet compounds increased as well. In the mice without endocannabinoid receptors, no increase in behavioral or cellular activity was observed in response to cannabinoid injection. In addition, in normal mice, with endocannabinoid receptors, if the endocannabinoid receptors are blocked using a drug, the mice show a decreased response to sweet compounds. This last portion of the experiment hints to the idea that endocannabinoids may be involved in allowing the animals to perceive a sweet taste. These findings, in general, suggest that perhaps endocannabinoids play a role in the perception and enhancement of sweet tastes. Yoshida et al.’s normal mice which were administered a cannabinoid would have really loved the desserts that I have been delving into for the past few weeks. It may be possible that as I make my way through the treats at my regular bakery, my body releases endocannabinoids, which act on certain areas of my brain that eventually communicate with my taste buds and allow me to taste the sweet, delicious desserts. Perhaps a combination of my body’s release of endocannabinoids and my love for sweets is what is propelling me so quickly through my task. At this rate I’ll be onto my next bakery in a week; watch out Paris, I’m a little girl with a huge sweet tooth.
– Ankita Gumaste
Yoshida R, Ohkuri T, Jyotaki M, Yasuo T, Horio N, Yasumatsu K, Sanematsu K, Shigemura N, Yamamoto T, Margolskee RF, Ninomiya Y (2010) Endocannabinoids selectively enhance sweet taste. PNAS 107:935-939.