Taste-olfactory convergence, and the representation of the pleasantness of flavour, in the human brain

Eur J Neurosci. 2003 Oct;18(7):2059-68. doi: 10.1046/j.1460-9568.2003.02915.x.


The functional architecture of the central taste and olfactory systems in primates provides evidence that the convergence of taste and smell information onto single neurons is realized in the caudal orbitofrontal cortex (and immediately adjacent agranular insula). These higher-order association cortical areas thus support flavour processing. Much less is known, however, about homologous regions in the human cortex, or how taste-odour interactions, and thus flavour perception, are implemented in the human brain. We performed an event-related fMRI study to investigate where in the human brain these interactions between taste and odour stimuli (administered retronasally) may be realized. The brain regions that were activated by both taste and smell included parts of the caudal orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala, insular cortex and adjoining areas, and anterior cingulate cortex. It was shown that a small part of the anterior (putatively agranular) insula responds to unimodal taste and to unimodal olfactory stimuli, and that a part of the anterior frontal operculum is a unimodal taste area (putatively primary taste cortex) not activated by olfactory stimuli. Activations to combined olfactory and taste stimuli where there was little or no activation to either alone (providing positive evidence for interactions between the olfactory and taste inputs) were found in a lateral anterior part of the orbitofrontal cortex. Correlations with consonance ratings for the smell and taste combinations, and for their pleasantness, were found in a medial anterior part of the orbitofrontal cortex. These results provide evidence on the neural substrate for the convergence of taste and olfactory stimuli to produce flavour in humans, and where the pleasantness of flavour is represented in the human brain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / drug effects
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Flavoring Agents / pharmacology
  • Food Additives / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Olfactory Pathways / drug effects
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Sodium Glutamate / pharmacology
  • Stimulation, Chemical
  • Sucrose / pharmacology
  • Taste / drug effects
  • Taste / physiology*


  • Flavoring Agents
  • Food Additives
  • Sucrose
  • Sodium Glutamate