Molecular mechanisms underlying memory consolidation of taste information in the cortex

Front Behav Neurosci. 2012 Jan 5;5:87. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2011.00087. eCollection 2011.


The senses of taste and odor are both chemical senses. However, whereas an organism can detect an odor at a relatively long distance from its source, taste serves as the ultimate proximate gatekeeper of food intake: it helps in avoiding poisons and consuming beneficial substances. The automatic reaction to a given taste has been developed during evolution and is well adapted to conditions that may occur with high probability during the lifetime of an organism. However, in addition to this automatic reaction, animals can learn and remember tastes, together with their positive or negative values, with high precision and in light of minimal experience. This ability of mammalians to learn and remember tastes has been studied extensively in rodents through application of reasonably simple and well defined behavioral paradigms. The learning process follows a temporal continuum similar to those of other memories: acquisition, consolidation, retrieval, relearning, and reconsolidation. Moreover, inhibiting protein synthesis in the gustatory cortex (GC) specifically affects the consolidation phase of taste memory, i.e., the transformation of short- to long-term memory, in keeping with the general biochemical definition of memory consolidation. This review aims to present a general background of taste learning, and to focus on recent findings regarding the molecular mechanisms underlying taste-memory consolidation in the GC. Specifically, the roles of neurotransmitters, neuromodulators, immediate early genes, and translation regulation are addressed.

Keywords: ERK; MAPK; conditioned taste aversion; consolidation; gustatory cortex; insular cortex; taste learning; translation regulation.