WASHINGTON (AP) — Packing on pounds seems to dull people's sense of taste, and researchers turned to mice to figure out why: Obesity, they found, can rob the tongue of taste buds.

Cornell University researchers wondered why some earlier studies showed obese people often taste flavors less intensely than lean people. So they fed lab mice a high-fat diet that caused rapid weight gain and then took a close look at their taste buds.

They reported Tuesday that obese mice had 25 percent fewer taste buds than lean mice fed a normal diet. They said the culprit appears to be obesity-related inflammation, which can interrupt the normal regeneration of taste buds.

Scientists say if Tuesday's findings pan out, they could lead to new ways to treat obesity.

The research was reported in PLOS Biology.