Researchers long ago mapped sight, hearing and other human sensory systems in the brain. But for taste, which could be considered our most pleasurable sense, precisely where the “gustatory” cortex is and how it works has been a mystery.
Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and a new method of statistical analysis, researchers have discovered the taste centre in the human brain by uncovering which parts of the brain distinguish different types of tastes.
The insular cortex, which separates the frontal and temporal lobes, has long been thought to be the primary sensory area for taste. It also plays a role in other important functions, including visceral and emotional experience.
Previous work has shown a nearby insular region processes information originating from inside the body—from the heart and lungs, for example. In this way, distinct tastes and their associated pleasures may reflect the needs of our body. Taste not only reflects what is on our tongue but also our body’s need for specific nutrients.
The researchers found evidence that could be considered the “sweet” spot in the insula—a specific area where a large ensemble of neurons respond to sweetness stimulation on the tongue.
Compared with previous animal studies that show distinct activation clusters of basic tastes in the brain, the new study’s results reveal a more complex taste map in the human brain, Anderson said, where the same insular region represents multiple tastes.