Affective value, intensity and quality of liquid tastants/food discernment in the human brain: An activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis

Neuroimage. 2018 Apr 1:169:189-199. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.12.034. Epub 2017 Dec 14.


The primary dimensions of taste are affective value, intensity and quality. Numerous studies have reported the role of the insula in evaluating these dimensions of taste; however, the results were inconsistent. Therefore, in the current study, we performed meta-analyses of published data to identify locations consistently activated across studies and evaluate whether different regions of the human brain could be responsible for processing different dimensions of taste. Meta-analyses were performed on 39 experiments, with 846 total healthy subjects (without psychiatric/neurological disorders) in 34 studies reporting whole-brain results. The aim was to establish the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) of taste-mediated regional activation across the whole brain. Apart from one meta-analysis for all studies in general, three analyses were performed to reveal the clusters of activation that were attributable to processing the affective value (data from 323 foci), intensity (data from 43 foci) and quality (data from 45 foci) of taste. The ALE revealed eight clusters of activation outside the insula for processing affective value, covering the middle and posterior cingulate, pre-/post-central gyrus, caudate and thalamus. The affective value had four clusters of activation (two in each hemisphere) in the insula. The intensity and quality activated only the insula, each with one cluster on the right. The concurrence between studies was moderate; at best, 53% of the experiments contributed to the significant clusters attributable to the affective value, 60% to intensity and 50% to quality. The affective value was processed bilaterally in the anterior to middle insula, whereas intensity was processed in the right antero-middle insula, and quality was processed in the right middle insula. The right middle dorsal insula was responsible for processing both the affective value and quality of taste. The exploratory analysis on taste quality did not have a significant result if the studies using liquid food stimuli were excluded. Results from the meta-analyses on studies involving the oral delivery of liquid tastants or liquid food stimuli confirmed that the insula is involved in processing all three dimensions of taste. More experimental studies are required to investigate whether brain activations differ between liquid tastants and food. The coordinates of activated brain areas and brain maps are provided to serve as references for future taste/food studies.

Keywords: Affection; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Intensity; Meta-analysis; Quality; Taste.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Taste Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult