Animal models, Feeding behavior, Infant
The common evolutionary history humans share with mammals provides us with a solid basis for understanding normal oropharyngeal anatomy and functions. Physiologically, feeding is a cycle of neurophysiologic activity, where sensory input travels to the CNS which sends motor signals out to the periphery. Research with animal models is valuable because it is possible to disrupt this cycle, and develop predictive models on the causal basis of deviation from normal. Based on work with animal models, normal mammalian infant feeding behavior consists of the tongue functioning as a pump. First, the tongue assists in acquisition of milk from the nipple into the oral cavity, and then it pumps milk from the oral cavity into the valleculae prior to the pharyngeal swallow. Starting with this basic model, feeding in infant pigs was manipulated to determine the impact of variation in sensory input on behavioral output. One set of experiments suggested that chemo- or liquid sensation, in the form of milk is necessary to elicit continuing rhythmic activity. However, the rates of rhythmic suckling are intrinsic to an animal, and variation in rate cannot be entrained. Another set showed that initiation of the swallow does not purely depend on the volume of milk delivered, but also on the sensory stimulation at the mouth. These results support the idea that feeding behavior involves complex sensory integration.
German, R. Z., et al. (2004). The role of animal models in understanding feeding behavior in infants, International Journal of Orofacial Myology, 30 (1), 21-31.