Nav: Home

The sweet spot: Scientists discover taste center of human brain

March 14, 2019

ITHACA, N.Y. - Researchers long ago mapped sight, hearing and other human sensory systems in the brain. But for taste, which could be considered our most pleasurable sense, precisely where the "gustatory" cortex is and how it works has been a mystery.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a new method of statistical analysis, researchers have discovered the taste center in the human brain by uncovering which parts of the brain distinguish different types of tastes.

"We have known that tastes activate the human brain for some time, but not where primary taste types such as sweet, sour, salty and bitter are distinguished," said Adam Anderson, professor of human development at Cornell University and senior author of the study, published in Nature Communications.

"By using some new techniques that analyze fine-grained activity patterns, we found a specific portion of the insular cortex - an older cortex in the brain hidden behind the neocortex - represents distinct tastes," Anderson said.

The insular cortex, which separates the frontal and temporal lobes, has long been thought to be the primary sensory area for taste. It also plays a role in other important functions, including visceral and emotional experience.

"The insular cortex represents experiences from inside our bodies," Anderson said. "So taste is a bit like perceiving our own bodies, which is very different from other external senses such as sight, touch, hearing or smell."

Previous work has shown a nearby insular region processes information originating from inside the body - from the heart and lungs, for example. In this way, distinct tastes and their associated pleasures may reflect the needs of our body. Taste not only reflects what is on our tongue but also our body's need for specific nutrients, Anderson said.

The researchers found evidence that could be considered the "sweet" spot in the insula - a specific area where a large ensemble of neurons respond to sweetness stimulation on the tongue.

"While we identified a potential 'sweet' spot, its precise location differed across people and this same spot responded to other tastes, but with distinct patterns of activity," Anderson said. "To know what people are tasting, we have to take into account not only where in the insula is stimulated, but also how."

Compared with previous animal studies that show distinct activation clusters of basic tastes in the brain, the new study's results reveal a more complex taste map in the human brain, Anderson said, where the same insular region represents multiple tastes.
-end-
First author of the study is Junichi Chikazoe, former postdoctoral researcher in Anderson's Affect and Cognition Lab. Also contributing to the study were researchers from Columbia University and the University of Colorado. Funding was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the Takeda Science Foundation.

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews supporting full HD, ISDN and web-based platforms.

Cornell University

Related Brain Articles:

Study describes changes to structural brain networks after radiotherapy for brain tumors
Researchers compared the thickness of brain cortex in patients with brain tumors before and after radiation therapy was applied and found significant dose-dependent changes in the structural properties of cortical neural networks, at both the local and global level.
Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe in brain networks
Using a sophisticated type of mathematics in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.
New brain mapping tool produces higher resolution data during brain surgery
Researchers have developed a new device to map the brain during surgery and distinguish between healthy and diseased tissues.
Newborn baby brain scans will help scientists track brain development
Scientists have today published ground-breaking scans of newborn babies' brains which researchers from all over the world can download and use to study how the human brain develops.
New test may quickly identify mild traumatic brain injury with underlying brain damage
A new test using peripheral vision reaction time could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment of mild traumatic brain injury, often referred to as a concussion.
This is your brain on God: Spiritual experiences activate brain reward circuits
Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Brain scientists at TU Dresden examine brain networks during short-term task learning
'Practice makes perfect' is a common saying. We all have experienced that the initially effortful implementation of novel tasks is becoming rapidly easier and more fluent after only a few repetitions.
Balancing time & space in the brain: New model holds promise for predicting brain dynamics
A team of scientists has extended the balanced network model to provide deep and testable predictions linking brain circuits to brain activity.
New view of brain development: Striking differences between adult and newborn mouse brain
Spikes in neuronal activity in young mice do not spur corresponding boosts in blood flow -- a discovery that stands in stark contrast to the adult mouse brain.
Map of teenage brain provides evidence of link between antisocial behavior and brain development
The brains of teenagers with serious antisocial behavior problems differ significantly in structure to those of their peers, providing the clearest evidence to date that their behavior stems from changes in brain development in early life, according to new research led by the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton, in collaboration with the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy.

Related Brain Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...