Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Response to Concentrated Sucrose Reflects Liking Rather Than Sweet Quality Coding

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Abstract

The perception of the pleasantness of sweet tastes varies widely across individuals. Here, we exploit these differences to isolate brain response to sweet-taste pleasantness while controlling for intensity, quality, and physiological significance. Thirty subjects participated in functional MRI scanning while consuming individually calibrated weak and strong sucrose solutions. All subjects found the weak sweet taste to be neutral in pleasantness, but half of the subjects found strong sweet taste pleasant (likers), whereas half found strong sweet taste unpleasant (dislikers). Greater response was observed in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) to the sucrose when it was rated pleasant versus neutral compared with unpleasant versus neutral. This suggests that response in the vmPFC underlies sweet-taste preference, this region is preferentially sensitive to affectively positive tastes, and it is the positive value rather than physiological significance, quality, or intensity that drives responses here. Likers versus dislikers did not differ in their diet, alcohol use, body weight, gender, or taq1A allele status, but likers were more likely to report emotional eating. None of these factors influenced response in the vmPFC.

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