Peripheral sources of individual variation in taste intensity perception have been well described. The existence of a central source has been proposed but remains unexplored. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging in healthy human participants (20 women, 8 men) to evaluate the hypothesis that the amygdala exerts an inhibitory influence that affects the "gain" of the gustatory system during tasting. Consistent with the existence of a central gain mechanism (CGM), we found that central amygdala response was correlated with mean intensity ratings across multiple tastants. In addition, psychophysiological and dynamic causal modeling analyses revealed that the connection strength between inhibitory outputs from amygdala to medial dorsal and ventral posterior medial thalamus predicted individual differences in responsiveness to taste stimulation. These results imply that inhibitory inputs from the amygdala to the thalamus act as a CGM that influences taste intensity perception.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Whether central circuits contribute to individual variation in taste intensity perception is unknown. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging in healthy human participants to identify an amygdala-thalamic circuit where network dynamics and connectivity strengths during tasting predict individual variation in taste intensity ratings. This finding implies that individual differences in taste intensity perception do not arise solely from variation in peripheral gustatory factors.
Keywords: amygdala; fMRI; gustation; perception; taste intensity; thalamus.
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