From receptors to the brain: Psychophysical clues to taste physiology

Curr Opin Physiol. 2021 Apr;20:154-158. doi: 10.1016/j.cophys.2020.12.010. Epub 2021 Jan 19.


To understand human taste requires not only physiological studies ranging from receptor mechanisms to brain circuitry, but also psychophysical studies that quantitatively describe the perceptual output of the system. As obvious as this requirement is, differences in research approaches, methodologies, and objectives complicate the ability to meet it. Discussed here is an example of how the discovery two decades ago of a perceptual taste illusion (thermal taste) has led to physiological and psychophysical research on both peripheral and central mechanisms of taste, including most recently a psychophysical study of the heat sensitivity of the human sweet taste receptor TAS1R2/T1R3, and an fMRI study of a possible central gain mechanism that may underlie, in part, differences in human taste sensitivity. In addition to the new data and hypotheses these studies have generated, they illustrate instances of research on taste motivated by evidence derived from different approaches and levels of analysis.

Keywords: fMRI; human; psychophysics; receptors; taste; temperature.