The representation of oral fat texture in the human somatosensory cortex.
Grabenhorst F., Rolls ET.
How fat is sensed in the mouth and represented in the brain is important in relation to the pleasantness of food, appetite control, and the design of foods that reproduce the mouthfeel of fat yet have low energy content. We show that the human somatosensory cortex (SSC) is involved in oral fat processing via functional coupling to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), where the pleasantness of fat texture is represented. Using functional MRI, we found that activity in SSC was more strongly correlated with the OFC during the consumption of a high fat food with a pleasant (vanilla) flavor compared to a low fat food with the same flavor. This effect was not found in control analyses using high fat foods with a less pleasant flavor or pleasant-flavored low fat foods. SSC activity correlated with subjective ratings of fattiness, but not of texture pleasantness or flavor pleasantness, indicating a representation that is not involved in hedonic processing per se. Across subjects, the magnitude of OFC-SSC coupling explained inter-individual variation in texture pleasantness evaluations. These findings extend known SSC functions to a specific role in the processing of pleasant-flavored oral fat, and identify a neural mechanism potentially important in appetite, overeating, and obesity.