The neural code for taste in the brain stem: response profiles

Physiol Behav. 2000 Apr 1-15;69(1-2):87-96. doi: 10.1016/s0031-9384(00)00191-8.


In the study of the neural code for taste, two theories have dominated the literature: the across neuron pattern (ANP), and the labeled line theories. Both of these theories are based on the observations that taste cells are multisensitive across a variety of different taste stimuli. Given a fixed array of taste stimuli, a cell's particular set of sensitivities defines its response profile. The characteristics of response profiles are the basis of both major theories of coding. In reviewing the literature, it is apparent that response profiles are an expression of a complex interplay of excitatory and inhibitory inputs that derive from cells with a wide variety of sensitivity patterns. These observations suggest that, in the absence of inhibition, taste cells might be potentially responsive to all taste stimuli. Several studies also suggest that response profiles can be influenced by the taste context, defined as the taste stimulus presented just before or simultaneously with another, under which they are recorded. A theory, called dynamic coding, was proposed to account for context dependency of taste response profiles. In this theory, those cells that are unaffected by taste context would provide the signal, i.e., the information-containing portion of the ANP, and those cells whose responses are context dependent would provide noise, i.e., less stimulus specific information. When singular taste stimuli are presented, noise cells would provide amplification of the signal, and when complex mixtures are presented, the responses of the noise cells would be suppressed (depending on the particular combination of tastants), and the ratio of signal to noise would be enhanced.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Stem / anatomy & histology
  • Brain Stem / cytology
  • Brain Stem / physiology*
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Taste / physiology*