Professor of Psychology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Alan Spector studies the sense of taste, or gustatory system, to understand the role disruptions in taste can have on disorders involving nutrition, hydromineral balance and obesity.
“Although frequently taken for granted, the sense of taste is very important in guiding feeding and drinking,” Spector says. “The taste buds stand guard over the rest of the alimentary tract and anything that is ingested must pass their scrutiny. Disruptions in the sense of taste can have a serious impact on quality of life.”
Toward this end, Spector has developed and applied sophisticated behavioral procedures that he uses to assess taste perception in laboratory rats and mice. A specially designed rodent taste-testing apparatus, which Spector refers to as his “behavioral microscope,” is used in many of these experiments. Spector believes “the development of animal models, in which the gustatory system can be experimentally manipulated, is essential to gaining an understanding of the underlying neurobiology of normal and abnormal taste function.”
Through a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), Spector is studying how nerve damage affects taste sensation. He and his colleagues have determined that the nerves carrying taste information from the mouth to the brain do not contribute equally to all taste functions.
Another NIDCD grant is allowing Spector to study gustatory function in inbred mice suspected of having specific abnormalities in taste perception. Once the exact nature of the taste-related abnormalities are identified, mice from these strains can be used by biomedical investigators to better understand the underlying anatomy and physiology associated with perceptual ability.
Spector is leading a UF initiative, in conjunction with the Department of Psychology and the Center for Smell and Taste, to develop a Chemosensory Test Facility where scientists could assess the sensory and behavioral impacts of the manipulation of animal nervous systems, including genetic modifications.