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The primary taste cortex consists of the insula and operculum. Previous work has indicated that neurons in the primary taste cortex respond solely to sensory input from taste receptors and lingual somatosensory receptors. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show here that expectancy modulates these neural responses in humans. When subjects were led to believe that a highly aversive bitter taste would be less distasteful than it actually was, they reported it to be less aversive than when they had accurate information about the taste and, moreover, the primary taste cortex was less strongly activated. In addition, the activation of the right insula and operculum tracked online ratings of the aversiveness for each taste. Such expectancy-driven modulation of primary sensory cortex may affect perceptions of external events.
The experience of aversion is shaped by multiple physiological and psychological factors including one's expectations. Recent work has shown that expectancy manipulation can alter perceptions of aversive events and concomitant brain activation. Accruing evidence indicates a primary role of altered expectancies in the placebo effect. Here, we probed the mechanism by which expectation attenuates sensory taste transmission by examining how brain areas activated by misleading information during an expectancy period modulate insula and amygdala activation to a highly aversive bitter taste. In a rapid event-related fMRI design, we showed that activations in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to a misleading cue that the taste would be mildly aversive predicted decreases in insula and amygdala activation to the highly aversive taste. OFC and rACC activation to the misleading cue were also associated with less aversive ratings of that taste. Additional analyses revealed consistent results demonstrating functional connectivity among the OFC, rACC, and insula. Altering expectancies of upcoming aversive events are shown here to depend on robust functional associations among brain regions implicated in prior work on the placebo effect.
Increasing research indicates that concepts are represented as distributed circuits of property information across the brain's modality-specific areas. The current study examines the distributed representation of an important but under-explored category, foods. Participants viewed pictures of appetizing foods (along with pictures of locations for comparison) during event-related fMRI. Compared to location pictures, food pictures activated the right insula/operculum and the left orbitofrontal cortex, both gustatory processing areas. Food pictures also activated regions of visual cortex that represent object shape. Together these areas contribute to a distributed neural circuit that represents food knowledge. Not only does this circuit become active during the tasting of actual foods, it also becomes active while viewing food pictures. Via the process of pattern completion, food pictures activate gustatory regions of the circuit to produce conceptual inferences about taste. Consistent with theories that ground knowledge in the modalities, these inferences arise as reenactments of modality-specific processing.
Recent evidence suggests that frontal brain electrical activity reveals asymmetries in activation in response to positive vs negative affective stimuli. This study was designed to evaluate whether this asymmetry is present at birth. Newborn infants were presented with water followed by a sucrose solution and then by a citric acid solution. Facial expression was videotaped during the presentation of the liquids and EEG was recorded from the frontal and parietal scalp regions on the left and right side. Usable EEG data were obtained from 16 newborn infants in response to these taste conditions. Videotaping of facial expression in response to these stimuli indicated the presence of disgust during both water (the first taste introduced) and citric acid. EEG was Fourier Transformed and power in the 1-3, 3-6 and 6-12 Hz bands was computed. The findings revealed that the water condition produced reductions in right-hemisphere power in the two higher frequency bands in both the scalp regions compared with the other two conditions. The sucrose condition produced greater relative left-sided activation in both regions compared with the water condition. These data, in conjunction with our previous findings of asymmetries in 10-month-old infants, indicate that stimulus-elicited affective asymmetries in brain electrical activity are present at birth.