The solitary nucleus (nucleus tractus solitarii), the first central relay for taste in mammals, was studied anatomically and physiologically in the golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus). Activity of neurons to anterior tongue stimulation with sucrose, NaCl and KCl were extracellularly recorded. Electrolytic lesions or horseradish peroxidase deposits allowed subsequent localization of recording sites. Anterior tongue taste-responsive sites were restricted to a very small part of the rostral pole of the solitary nucleus, which is about 3% of the entire nucleus. Sites were confined to the rostral-central and rostral-lateral subdivisions of Whitehead, which contain a number of morphological cell types. Some chemotopic organization was seen with multi-unit recordings, with NaCl-selective sites concentrated rostrally and sucrose- and KCl-selective sites concentrated caudally. Sites with broad sensitivity were distributed throughout the gustatory region. Single neural units showing inhibition to taste stimuli, units highly reactive to all three stimuli, and units with high spontaneous rates were seen in the solitary nucleus, as well as units that responded very selectively and had low spontaneous rates. Single units with similar response profiles to sucrose, NaCl and KCl were not segregated to separate restricted locations within the taste-reactive region; their distributions overlapped. In the hamster, neurons in the anterior tongue taste region of the solitary nucleus process taste quality information in diverse ways. Highly reactive non-specific neurons, neurons that show inhibition, and neurons with high spontaneous rates are more frequently observed in the solitary nucleus than in the afferent input fibers of the chorda tympani nerve. The small region of the rostral pole enclosing taste-responsive neurons is complexly organized in relation to taste quality and contains a number of morphological cell types whose functional role in taste is not yet known.