Eating Soft Foods May Alter the Brain’s Control of Chewing

Summary: Rats fed either a diet of soft or hard foods showed differences in jaw activity and muscle control when a chewing-related region of the brain was stimulated. Findings reveal the anterior cortical masticatory area strongly influences the regulation of chewing and is influenced by sensory input during development.

Source: TMDU

Incoming sensory information can affect the brain’s structure, which may in turn affect the body’s motor output. However, the specifics of this process are not always well understood.

In a recent study published in Scientific Reports, researchers from Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) found that when young rats were fed a diet of either soft or regular food, these different sensory inputs led to differences in muscle control and electrical activity of the jaw when a specific chewing-related brain region was stimulated.

Chewing is mainly controlled by the brainstem, a brain region that controls many automatic activities such as breathing and swallowing. For chewing, the brainstem is also influenced by signaling that comes from higher brain regions, including the cortical masticatory area (CMA), which can be split into the front (anterior) and back (posterior) parts. When the anterior CMA is stimulated, signals travel through the brainstem and reach the jaw muscles, causing chewing to occur.

However, it remains unknown whether incoming sensory information affects chewing under the control of the anterior CMA, something researchers at Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) decided to address.

“In the developing brain, changes in sensory information can greatly affect the brain’s structure,” says senior author of the study Takashi Ono. “We fed 2-week-old rats either a soft diet or a regular diet, and then investigated a range of different neuromuscular outcomes in response to stimulation of the anterior CMA.”

After rats had been fed the soft or regular diet for 3 to 9 weeks, electrodes were used to stimulate the anterior CMA while the rats’ jaw movements were measured, along with the electrical activity of the jaw muscles. In response to anterior CMA stimulation, rats in the soft diet group had altered movement and electrical activity in the jaw muscles compared with the regular diet group.

This is a diagram from the study
Low occlusal loading in malocclusion elicits neuroplastic changes in CMA and causes maladaptation of neuromuscular behavior in masticatory movements. Inset: A typical example of electromyographic activity with jaw movement patterns elicited by electrical stimulation of the anterior part of the cortical masticatory area in an 11-week-old experimental animal. Credit: Department of Orthodontic Science,TMDU

“Our findings suggest that the anterior CMA strongly influences the regulation of chewing, and is affected by sensory inputs during development. As such, reduced chewing function during growth should be corrected as soon as possible to avoid any potential adverse effects on jaw muscle development and chewing ability,” says Ono.

Given the importance of chewing for obtaining nutrients, the results of this study could be vital for monitoring and improving chewing ability in young children with chewing difficulties, as well as in adults after trauma or disease. The results of this study suggest that the brain’s control of chewing may be influenced by simply increasing chewing difficulty.

About this sensory neuroscience and neuroplasticity research news

Source: TMDU
Contact: Takashi Ono – TMDU
Image: The image is credited to Department of Orthodontic Science, TMDU

Original Research: Open access.
Effects of low occlusal loading on the neuromuscular behavioral development of cortically-elicited jaw movements in growing rats” by Phyo Thura Aung, Chiho Kato, Akiyo Fujita, Yasunori Abe, Takuya Ogawa, Hideyuki Ishidori, Hidemasa Okihara, Satoshi Kokai & Takashi Ono. Scientific Reports


Effects of low occlusal loading on the neuromuscular behavioral development of cortically-elicited jaw movements in growing rats

The effect of altered occlusal force on masticatory-related neuromuscular control, which projects from the anterior part of the cortical masticatory area (A-CMA), during growth remains unclear.

This study sought to evaluate the effect of occlusal hypofunction on neuromuscular development of jaw muscle activities and cortically-induced rhythmic jaw movements (RJMs) in growing rats.

Sixty-four 2-week-old male albino Wistar rats were divided into the control (fed normal diet) and experimental (fed soft diet) groups soon after weaning. Electromyographic activity was recorded at 5, 7, 9, and 11 weeks from the right masseter and anterior digastric along with RJMs.

We found a significantly longer onset latency and smaller peak-to-peak amplitude in the experimental group than that in the control group. The RJMs showed an increase in gape size and lateral excursion until up to 9 weeks in both groups.

However, both the average gape size and lateral excursion were significantly smaller in the experimental group than that in the control group after 9 weeks. The jaw movement pattern also showed a significant decrease at the maximum opening period in the experimental group.

Our findings indicate that inadequate occlusal function during growth alters neuromuscular control of masticatory behaviors and impairs the pattern of RJMs.

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