Spatially Distributed Representation of Taste Quality in the Gustatory Insular Cortex of Behaving Mice

Sabah Bari ’24

Figure 1: A mouse checking its surroundings, perching over a piece of food, getting ready to eat.

The brain’s response to taste is found within the gustatory cortex. The sense of taste can be affected by our other senses such as smell, hearing, and sight. The purpose of this study was to understand the processes of visual, auditory and somatosensory cortices and how they respond to similar sensations. The somatosensory cortex has a role in processing somatic sensations, which include detecting touch, the position of the body in space, pain, and temperature. The researchers from Stony Brook University hypothesized that different regions of the body and brain show activity before engaging in food consumption. This idea reflects that the animal can anticipate taste and that the digestive system becomes active before consumption as well. Since the gustatory cortex is known to be responsible for the perception of taste, the researchers implanted microprisms and used imaging to monitor the neural activity. 

The somatosensory cortex shows activity while the body is moving to bring food to its mouth, but the researchers want to know if this is a signal that the brain recognizes as taste before the food is actually consumed. To test the hypothesis of whether or not the brain shows activity before eating, the researchers observed how the mice would make mouth movements and licks in response to seeing the food. This finding was the result of the mice inferring the taste of food with only a visual. The responses of the mice making mouth movements were a gradual increase over a period of time. The response from the gustatory cortex showed an increase of the neural stimuli of starting at a 16% then to 33%. According to the researchers, this is an evolutionary advantage because animals can recognize a food from afar that is edible for them. Included in the data was visual inspection, and through the imaging of the neural activity, signals began to rise before the mouse ate. The taste quality was also recorded to differentiate between the stimuli (i.e. whether the mouse enjoyed the food or not). Understanding the preference of the mouse led to an increase in signal activity before consuming food. Through this experiment there was a 54% of taste-responsive neurons, suggesting that visual stimuli have an effect on taste. The researchers also paired auditory stimuli with the visual stimuli by creating a sound to cue the mice to have mouth movements. The mice would respond to the sound by making mouth movements and licking.

Through the procedure of creating a sound to cue the mice, researchers realized they can train the mice to increase their visual and auditory senses by repeating it over again to teach them. This finding suggested that  supported the idea that auditory and visual stimuli do have an effect  on the consumption of food. The mice became advanced in producing responses to stimuli by using senses other than taste. The results were consistent with the hypothesis on how the sense of taste is not the only factor when it comes to food related decisions.

Work(s) cited:

[1]Fontanini, Alfredo. “Spatially Distributed Representation of Taste Quality in the Gustatory Insular Cortex of Behaving Mice.” Current Biology 31, 1-10 (2020) doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.014 

[2] Image retrieved from: 

https://unsplash.com/photos/e9GyzrK2IkM

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