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Neuroimage. 2005 Apr 1;25(2):570-8.

The appreciation of wine by sommeliers: a functional magnetic resonance study of sensory integration.

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1
Department of Radiology, IRCCS Santa Lucia Foundation, Rome, Italy; Laboratory of Functional Neuroimaging, IRCCS Santa Lucia Foundation, Rome, Italy. scanderberg@hsantalucia.it

Abstract

We set out to investigate how the expertise of a sommelier is embodied in neural circuitry by comparing brain activity elicited by wine tasting with that found in naive drinkers of wine. We used fMRI to study 7 sommeliers and 7 age- and sex-matched control subjects to test the hypothesis that any difference in brain activity would reflect a learned ability to integrate information from gustatory and olfactory senses with past experience. A group analysis showed activation of a cerebral network involving the left insula and adjoining orbito-frontal cortex in sommeliers. Both these areas have been implicated in gustatory/olfactory integration in primates. In addition, activation was found bilaterally in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is implicated in high-level cognitive processes such as working memory and selection of behavioral strategies. Naive individuals activated the primary gustatory cortex and brain areas, including the amygdala, implicated in emotional processing.

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