Jean-Pascal Morin1, Luis F. Rodríguez-Durán1, Kioko Guzmán-Ramos, Claudia Perez-Cruz, Guillaume Ferreira, Sofia Diaz-Cintra and Gustavo Pacheco-López
Neural plasticity is an intrinsic and essential characteristic of the nervous system that allows animals “self-tuning” to adapt to their environment over their lifetime. Activity-dependent synaptic plasticity in the central nervous system is a form of neural plasticity that underlies learning and memory formation, as well as long-lasting, environmentally-induced maladaptive behaviors, such as drug addiction and overeating of palatable hyper-caloric (PHc) food. In western societies, the abundance of PHc foods has caused a dramatic increase in the incidence of overweight/obesity and related disorders. To this regard, it has been suggested that increased adiposity may be caused at least in part by behavioral changes in the affected individuals that are induced by the chronic consumption of PHc foods; some authors have even drawn attention to the similarity that exists between over-indulgent eating and drug addiction. Long-term misuse of certain dietary components has also been linked to chronic neuroimmune maladaptation that may predispose individuals to neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. In this review article, we discuss recent evidence that shows how consumption of PHc food can cause maladaptive neural plasticity that converts short-term ingestive drives into compulsive behaviors. We also discuss the neural mechanisms of how chronic consumption of PHc foods may alter brain function and lead to cognitive impairments, focusing on prenatal, childhood and adolescence as vulnerable neurodevelopmental stages to dietary environmental insults. Finally, we outline a societal agenda for harnessing permissive obesogenic environments.