Our lab has studied the mechanisms of taste, flavor and feeding in humans since the mid 90’s using lesion, neuroimaging, neuropsychology, metabolic, genetic and psychophysics methodologies. Our early work focused primarily on questions related to chemosensory representation and the development of instrumentation and protocols for conducting taste and flavor experiments in the neuroimaging environment. We identified the neural circuits underlying taste and flavor intensity, quality and affective representation and we explored how top-down influences such as directed attention and beliefs and expectations alter these circuits and perception. More recently, my group has studied the interaction between sensory and metabolic signals in determining food reinforcement. We have demonstrated that post-ingestive signals regulate neural circuits in the dopaminergic meso-striato-prefrontal system independently of other food characteristics that could influence reward such as liking, to guide reinforcement learning and food valuation and we have uncovered a novel role for perception in regulating nutrient metabolism. In addition to these basic research questions my lab has studied ingestive behavior in obesity and diabetes in adolescents and adults. In particular we are interested in the causes and consequences of neural, perceptual and metabolic adaptations that occur in response to diet, smoking, alcohol intake, adiposity and metabolic dysfunction. Most recently, we have identified a gut to brain pathway that can be targeted to rescue striatal circuits and functions impaired by alcohol abuse.
VIDEO: Dr. Small presents recent data from the lab at Brenda Milner’s 100th birthday Watch here