There is strong evidence demonstrating age-related differences in the acceptability of foods and beverages. To examine the neural foundations underlying these age-related differences in the acceptability of different flavors and foods, we performed an fMRI study to investigate brain and hedonic responses to orange juice, orange soda, and vegetable juice in three different age groups: Young (22), Middle (40) and Elderly (60 years). Orange juice and orange soda were found to be liked by all age groups, while vegetable juice was disliked by the Young, but liked by the Elderly. In the insular primary taste cortex, the activations to these stimuli were similar in the 3 age groups, indicating that the differences in liking for these stimuli between the 3 groups were not represented in this first stage of cortical taste processing. In the agranular insula (anterior to the insular primary taste cortex) where flavor is represented, the activations to the stimuli were similar in the Elderly, but in the Young the activations were larger to the vegetable juice than to the orange drinks; and the activations here were correlated with the unpleasantness of the stimuli. In the anterior midcingulate cortex, investigated as a site where the activations were correlated with the unpleasantness of the stimuli, there was again a greater activation to the vegetable than to the orange stimuli in the Young but not in the Elderly. In the amygdala (and orbitofrontal cortex), investigated as sites where the activations were correlated with the pleasantness of the stimuli, there was a smaller activation to the vegetable than to the orange stimuli in the Young but not in the Elderly. The Middle group was intermediate with respect to the separation of their activations to the stimuli in the brain areas that represent the pleasantness or unpleasantness of flavors. Thus age differences in the activations to different flavors can in some brain areas be related to, and probably cause, the differences in pleasantness of foods as they differ for people of different ages. This novel work provides a foundation for understanding the underlying neural bases for differences in food acceptability between age groups.
Keywords: Cingulate cortex; Cognitive modulation; Flavor; Food; Orbitofrontal cortex; Reward; Taste; fMRI.
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