[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: It is becoming increasingly clear that the brain processes sensory stimuli differently according to whether they are passively or actively acquired, and these differences can be seen early in the sensory pathway. In the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS), the first relay in the central gustatory neuraxis, a rich variety of sensory inputs generated by active licking converge. Here, we show that taste responses in the NTS reflect these interactions. Experiments consisted of recordings of taste-related activity in the NTS of awake rats as they freely licked exemplars of the five basic taste qualities (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami). Nearly all taste-responsive cells were broadly tuned across taste qualities. A subset responded to taste with long latencies (>1.0 s), suggesting the activation of extraoral chemoreceptors. Analyses of the temporal characteristics of taste responses showed that spike timing conveyed significantly more information than spike count alone in almost one-half of NTS cells, as in anesthetized rats, but with less information per cell. In addition to taste-responsive cells, the NTS contains cells that synchronize with licks. Since the lick pattern per se can convey information, these cells may collaborate with taste-responsive cells to identify taste quality. Other cells become silent during licking. These latter "antilick" cells show a surge in firing rate predicting the beginning and signaling the end of a lick bout. Collectively, the data reveal a complex array of cell types in the NTS, only a portion of which include taste-responsive cells, which work together to acquire sensory information.
Journal of Neuroscience 08/2012; 32(31):10494-506. · 6.91 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: To qualify as a "basic" taste quality or modality, defined as a group of chemicals that taste alike, three empirical benchmarks have commonly been used. The first is that a candidate group of tastants must have a dedicated transduction mechanism in the peripheral nervous system. The second is that the tastants evoke physiological responses in dedicated afferent taste nerves innervating the oropharyngeal cavity. Last, the taste stimuli evoke activity in central gustatory neurons, some of which may respond only to that group of tastants. Here we argue that water may also be an independent taste modality. This argument is based on the identification of a water dedicated transduction mechanism in the peripheral nervous system, water responsive fibers of the peripheral taste nerves and the observation of water responsive neurons in all gustatory regions within the central nervous system. We have described electrophysiological responses from single neurons in nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) and parabrachial nucleus of the pons, respectively the first two central relay nuclei in the rodent brainstem, to water presented as a taste stimulus in anesthetized rats. Responses to water were in some cases as robust as responses to other taste qualities and sometimes occurred in the absence of responses to other tastants. Both excitatory and inhibitory responses were observed. Also, the temporal features of the water response resembled those of other taste responses. We argue that water may constitute an independent taste modality that is processed by dedicated neural channels at all levels of the gustatory neuraxis. Water-dedicated neurons in the brainstem may constitute key elements in the regulatory system for fluid in the body, i.e., thirst, and as part of the swallowing reflex circuitry.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Altered Pontine Processing in a Rat Model of Obesity by Kovacs and Hajnal (2008) is discussed. In this article, Kovacs and Hajnal (2008) use a rat model of obesity to demonstrate that chronic obesity may alter brainstem encoding of sweet tastes.
Journal of Neurophysiology 09/2008; 100(4):1697-8. · 3.30 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS), electrophysiological responses to taste stimuli representing four basic taste qualities (sweet, sour, salty, or bitter) can often be discriminated by spike count, although in units for which the number of spikes is variable across identical stimulus presentations, spike timing (i.e., temporal coding) can also support reliable discrimination. The present study examined the contribution of spike count and spike timing to the discrimination of stimuli that evoke the same taste quality but are of different chemical composition. Responses to between 3 and 21 repeated presentations of two pairs of quality-matched tastants were recorded from 38 single cells in the NTS of urethane-anesthetized rats. Temporal coding was assessed in 24 cells, most of which were tested with salty and sour tastants, using an information-theoretic approach. Within a given cell, responses to tastants of similar quality were generally closer in magnitude than responses to dissimilar tastants; however, tastants of similar quality often reversed their order of effectiveness across replicate sets of trials. Typically, discrimination between tastants of dissimilar qualities could be made by spike count. Responses to tastants of similar quality typically evoked more similar response magnitudes but were more frequently, and to a proportionally greater degree, distinguishable based on temporal information. Results showed that nearly every taste-responsive NTS cell has the capacity to generate temporal features in evoked spike trains that can be used to distinguish between stimuli of different qualities and chemical compositions.
Journal of Neurophysiology 03/2008; 99(2):644-55. · 3.30 Impact Factor