Trigeminal input to the ascending activating system is important for the maintenance of arousal and may affect the discharge of the noradrenergic neurons of the locus coeruleus (LC), whose activity influences both vigilance state and pupil size, inducing mydriasis. For this reason, pupil size evaluation is now considered an indicator of LC activity. Since mastication activates trigeminal afferent neurons, the aims of the present study, conducted on healthy adult participants, were to investigate whether chewing a bolus of different hardness may: (1) differentially affect the performance on a cognitive task (consisting in the retrieval of specific target numbers within numerical matrices) and (2) increase the dilatation of the pupil (mydriasis) induced by a haptic task, suggesting a change in LC activation. Results show that chewing significantly increased both the velocity of number retrieval (without affecting the number of errors) and the mydriasis associated with the haptic task, whereas simple task repetition did not modify either retrieval or mydriasis. Handgrip exercise, instead, significantly decreased both parameters. Effects were significantly stronger and longer lasting when subjects chewed hard pellets. Finally, chewing-induced improvements in performance and changes in mydriasis were positively correlated, which suggests that trigeminal signals enhanced by chewing may boost the cognitive performance by increasing LC activity.
- Journal Article