Gustatory neural coding in the monkey cortex: stimulus quality

J Neurophysiol. 1991 Oct;66(4):1156-65. doi: 10.1152/jn.1991.66.4.1156.


1. Extracellular action potentials were recorded from 50 single neurons in the insular-opercular cortex of two alert cynomolgus monkeys during gustatory stimulation of the tongue and palate. 2. Sixteen stimuli, including salts, sugars, acids, alkaloids, monosodium glutamate, and aspartame, were chosen to represent a wide range of taste qualities. Concentrations were selected to elicit a moderate gustatory response, as determined by reference to previous electrophysiological data or to the human psychophysical literature. 3. The cortical region over which taste-evoked activity could be recorded included the frontal operculum and anterior insula, an area of approximately 75 mm3. Taste-responsive cells constituted 50 (2.7%) of the 1,863 neurons tested. Nongustatory cells responded to mouth movement (20.7%), somatosensory stimulation of the tongue (9.6%), stimulus approach or anticipation (1.7%), and tongue extension (0.6%). The sensitivities of 64.6% of these cortical neurons could not be identified by our stimulation techniques. 4. Taste cells had low spontaneous activity levels (3.7 +/- 3.0 spikes/s, mean +/- SD) and showed little inhibition. They were moderately broadly tuned, with a mean entropy coefficient of 0.76 +/- 0.17. Excitatory responses were typically not robust. 5. Hierarchical cluster analysis was used to determine whether neurons could be divided into discrete types, as defined by their response profiles to the entire stimulus array. There was an apparent division of response profiles into four general categories, with primary sensitivities to sodium (n = 18), glucose (n = 15), quinine (n = 12), and acid (n = 5). However, these categories were not statistically independent. Therefore the notion of functionally distinct neuron types was not supported by an analysis of the distribution of response profiles. It was the case, however, that neurons in the sodium category could be distinguished from other neurons by their relative specificity. 6. The similarity among the taste qualities represented by this stimulus array was assessed by calculating correlations between the activity profiles they elicited from these 50 neurons. The results generally confirmed expectations derived from human psychophysical studies. In a multidimensional representation of stimulus similarity, there were groups that contained acids, sodium salts, and chemicals that humans label bitter and sweet. 7. The small proportion of insular-opercular neurons that are taste sensitive and the low discharge rates that taste stimuli are able to evoke from them suggest a wider role for this cortical area than just gustatory coding.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Electrodes
  • Electrophysiology
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Stimulation, Chemical
  • Taste / physiology*