A Neural Mechanism of Taste Perception Modulated by Odor Information

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Taste perception is significantly affected by other sensory modalities such as vision, smell, and somatosensation. Such taste sensation elicited by integrating gustatory and other sensory information is referred to as flavor. Although experimental studies have demonstrated the characteristics of flavor perception influenced by other sensory modalities and the involved brain areas, it remains unknown how flavor emerges from the brain circuits. Of the involved brain areas, orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), as well as gustatory cortex (GC), plays a dominant role in flavor perception. We develop here a neural model of gustatory system which consists of GC and OFC networks and examine the neural mechanism of odor-induced taste perception. Using the model, we show that flavor perception is shaped by experience-dependent learning of foods with congruent taste–odor pairs, providing a unique representation of flavor through the interaction between OFC and GC neurons. Our model also shows that feedback signals from OFC to GC modulate the dynamic stability of taste attractors in GC, leading to the enhancement or suppression of taste responses by smells. Furthermore, modeling shows that spatial variability in GC activity evoked by tastants determines to what extent odor enhances congruent taste responses. The results suggest that flavor perception is deeply associated with dynamic stability of GC attractors through the interaction between GC and OFC.

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