How cognition modulates affective responses to taste and flavor: top-down influences on the orbitofrontal and pregenual cingulate cortices.
Grabenhorst F., Rolls ET., Bilderbeck A.
How cognition influences the affective brain representations of the taste and flavor of a food is important not only for understanding top-down influences in the brain, but also in relation to the topical issues of appetite control and obesity. We found using functional magnetic resonance imaging that activations related to the affective value of umami taste and flavor (as shown by correlations with pleasantness ratings) in the orbitofrontal cortex were modulated by word-level descriptors. Affect-related activations to taste were modulated in a region that receives from the orbitofrontal cortex, the pregenual cingulate cortex, and to taste and flavor in another region that receives from the orbitofrontal cortex, the ventral striatum. Affect-related cognitive modulations were not found in the insular taste cortex, where the intensity but not the pleasantness of the taste was represented. We conclude that top-down language-level cognitive effects reach far down into the earliest cortical areas that represent the appetitive value of taste and flavor. This is an important way in which cognition influences the neural mechanisms that control appetite.