Link Between Taste, Behavior Helps Explain Gustatory Computations

First Posted: Dec 07, 2015 11:09 AM EST

New insights reveal a link between taste and behavior, according to a recent study.

Researchers at NERF studied how the zebrafish encode gustatory information. They found that taste categories are represented by dissimilar brainstem responses, meanwhile generating different behaviors. They also learned that the concentration of both sour and bitter tastes are encoded by different principles with different levels of sensitivity.

"Our results suggest that these interactions in early brainstem circuits can result in non-linear computations, such as dynamic gain modulation and discrete representation of taste mixtures, which can be utilized for detecting food items at broad range of concentrations of tastes and rejecting inedible substances," said researcher Nuria Vendrell Llopis of NERF, in a news release

Previous studies have examined how brainstem circuits act as our life support system when they mediate vital taste related behaviors. However, up until now, the principles of gustatory computations in such circuits have been poorly understood, researchers say.

"This is the first study focusing on the gustatory computations in brainstem circuits, at such an exhaustive level, combining functional brain imaging, applied mathematics and animal behavior. Our results propose a central role for encoding category, concentration and mixtures of taste in evolutionary conserved brainstem circuits of vertebrates," Emre Yksi of NERF, added. "These kind of computations were up to now thought to be unique to higher centers at the level of gustatory cortex, mainly due to the difficulty of studying these questions in mammalian brainstem that is hard to access for in vivo physiology. At NERF we have the tools to do so leading to these new insights."

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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