Gustatory imagery reveals functional connectivity from the prefrontal to insular cortices traced with magnetoencephalography

PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e21736. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021736. Epub 2011 Jul 8.


Our experience and prejudice concerning food play an important role in modulating gustatory information processing; gustatory memory stored in the central nervous system influences gustatory information arising from the peripheral nervous system. We have elucidated the mechanism of the "top-down" modulation of taste perception in humans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and demonstrated that gustatory imagery is mediated by the prefrontal (PFC) and insular cortices (IC). However, the temporal order of activation of these brain regions during gustatory imagery is still an open issue. To explore the source of "top-down" signals during gustatory imagery tasks, we analyzed the temporal activation patterns of activated regions in the cerebral cortex using another non-invasive brain imaging technique, magnetoencephalography (MEG). Gustatory imagery tasks were presented by words (Letter G-V) or pictures (Picture G-V) of foods/beverages, and participants were requested to recall their taste. In the Letter G-V session, 7/9 (77.8%) participants showed activation in the IC with a latency of 401.7±34.7 ms (n = 7) from the onset of word exhibition. In 5/7 (71.4%) participants who exhibited IC activation, the PFC was activated prior to the IC at a latency of 315.2±56.5 ms (n = 5), which was significantly shorter than the latency to the IC activation. In the Picture G-V session, the IC was activated in 6/9 (66.7%) participants, and only 1/9 (11.1%) participants showed activation in the PFC. There was no significant dominance between the right and left IC or PFC during gustatory imagery. These results support those from our previous fMRI study in that the Letter G-V session rather than the Picture G-V session effectively activates the PFC and IC and strengthen the hypothesis that the PFC mediates "top-down" control of retrieving gustatory information from the storage of long-term memories and in turn activates the IC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Magnetoencephalography*
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult