The central gustatory pathways are part of the brain circuits upon which rest the decision to ingest or reject a food. The quality of food stimuli, however, relies not only on their taste but also on properties such as odor, texture and temperature. We will review anatomical and functional evidence showing that the central gustatory system, in particular its cortical aspect, functions as an integrative circuit in which taste-responsive neurons also show sensitivity to somatosensory and olfactory stimulation. In addition, gustatory pathways are modulated by the internal state of the body, with neuronal responses to tastes changing according to variations in physiological parameters such as gastrointestinal hormones or blood glucose levels. Therefore, rather than working as the receptive field of peripheral taste receptor cells, the central gustatory pathways seem to operate as a multisensory system dedicated to evaluating the biological significance of intra-oral stimuli.
International Journal of Obesity (2009) 33, S34-S43; doi:10.1038/ijo.2009.70