In grad school, I often felt guilty whenever I gave some hamsters a “last meal” prior to sacrifice; usually some rodent-friendly yogurt-coated treat from PetSmart. Well, last week I learned about specific brain sites that are activated following snacking on potato chips… rats!!! I’m still scratching my head as to how this protocol passed the institutional animal care committee because it sure wouldn’t at our institution (that’s another diatribe for another day). I do not even have the slightest clue if rodents’ palates overlap ResearchBlogging.orgwith humans. My current and previous dogs hate potato chips. Yes, I’m a terrible pet owner who is easily wooed by their sad, expressive eyes.

But back to the study. The researchers used neuroimaging (manganese-based mRI) to document changes in arousal, sleep, and reward centers during snacking (on potato chips vs. normal chow). As one would expect, there was increased activation in brain areas regulating arousal and reward concurrent with a decrease in areas regulating sleep in rats snacking on potato chips but not regular chow. I wonder if the quality of potato chips matters (Lay’s vs. Shearers)? Wavy vs. kettle cooked vs. thin? I’m only kidding 🙂

As someone who follows a strict diet (for enhanced athletic performance and recovery), I’m piqued by these findings. I predicted that the act of snaking rather than the type of snacking would be the primary stimulus for reward activation. However, I guess this offers some neurobiological explanation for why we can’t resist sugar and provides a manifestation of the obesity epidemic.

Hoch, T., Kreitz, S., Gaffling, S., Pischetsrieder, M., & Hess, A. (2013). Manganese-Enhanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging for Mapping of Whole Brain Activity Patterns Associated with the Intake of Snack Food in Ad Libitum Fed Rats PLoS ONE, 8 (2) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055354