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J Neurophysiol. 2001 Mar;85(3):1315-21.

Representation of pleasant and aversive taste in the human brain.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3UD, United Kingdom.


In this study, the representation of taste in the orbitofrontal cortex was investigated to determine whether or not a pleasant and an aversive taste have distinct or overlapping representations in this region. The pleasant stimulus used was sweet taste (1 M glucose), and the unpleasant stimulus was salt taste (0.1 M NaCl). We used an ON/OFF block design in a 3T fMRI scanner with a tasteless solution delivered in the OFF period to control for somatosensory or swallowing-related effects. It was found that parts of the orbitofrontal cortex were activated (P < 0.005 corrected) by glucose (in 6/7 subjects) and by salt (in 6/7 subjects). In the group analysis, separate areas of the orbitofrontal cortex were found to be activated by pleasant and aversive tastes. The involvement of the amygdala in the representation of pleasant as well as aversive tastes was also investigated. The amygdala was activated (region of interest analysis, P < 0.025 corrected) by the pleasant taste of glucose (5/7 subjects) as well as by the aversive taste of salt (4/7 subjects). Activation by both stimuli was also found in the frontal opercular/insular (primary) taste cortex. We conclude that the orbitofrontal cortex is involved in processing tastes that have both positive and negative affective valence and that different areas of the orbitofrontal cortex may be activated by pleasant and unpleasant tastes. We also conclude that the amygdala is activated not only by an affectively unpleasant taste, but also by a taste that is affectively pleasant, thus providing evidence that the amygdala is involved in effects produced by positively affective as well as by negatively affective stimuli.

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