Distinct neural ensembles in the rat gustatory cortex encode salt and water tastes

J Physiol. 2012 Jul 1;590(13):3169-84. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.233486. Epub 2012 May 8.


The gustatory cortex (GC) is important for perceiving the intensity of tastants but it remains unclear as to how single neurons in the region carry out this function. Previous studies have shown that taste-evoked activity from single neurons in GC can be correlated or anticorrelated with tastant concentration, yet whether one or both neural responses signal intensity is poorly characterized because animals from these studies were not trained to report the intensity of the concentration that they tasted. To address this issue, we designed a two-alternative forced choice (2-AFC) task in which freely licking rats distinguished among concentrations of NaCl and recorded from ensembles of neurons in the GC. We identified three neural ensembles that rapidly (<300 ms or ∼2 licks) processed NaCl concentration. For two ensembles, their NaCl evoked activity was anticorrelated with NaCl concentration but could be further distinguished by their response to water; in one ensemble, water evoked the greatest response while in the other ensemble the lowest tested NaCl concentration evoked the greatest response. However, the concentration sensitive activity from each of these ensembles did not show a strong association with the behaviour of the rat in the 2-AFC task, suggesting a lesser role for signalling tastant intensity. Conversely, for a third neural ensemble, its neural activity was well correlated with increases in NaCl concentration, and this relationship best matched the intensity perceived by the rat. These results suggest that this neuronal ensemble in GC whose activity monotonically increases with concentration plays an important role in signalling the intensity of the taste of NaCl.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reward
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Water


  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary
  • Water