Human cortical representation of oral temperature.
Guest S., Grabenhorst F., Essick G., Chen Y., Young M., McGlone F., de Araujo I., Rolls ET.
The temperature of foods and fluids is a major factor that determines their pleasantness and acceptability. Studies of nonhuman primates have shown that many neurons in cortical taste areas receive and process not only chemosensory inputs, but oral thermosensory (temperature) inputs as well. We investigated whether changes in oral temperature activate these areas in humans, or middle or posterior insular cortex, the areas most frequently identified for the encoding of temperature information from the human hand. In the fMRI study we identified areas of activation in response to innocuous, temperature-controlled (cooled and warmed, 5, 20 and 50 degrees C) liquid introduced into the mouth. The oral temperature stimuli activated the insular taste cortex (identified by glucose taste stimuli), a part of the somatosensory cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the ventral striatum. Brain regions where activations correlated with the pleasantness ratings of the oral temperature stimuli included the orbitofrontal cortex and pregenual cingulate cortex. We conclude that a network of taste- and reward-responsive regions of the human brain is also activated by intra-oral thermal stimulation, and that the pleasant subjective states elicited by oral thermal stimuli are correlated with the activations in the orbitofrontal cortex and pregenual cingulate cortex. Thus the pleasantness of oral temperature is represented in brain regions shown in previous studies to represent the pleasantness of the taste and flavour of food. Bringing together these different oral representations in the same brain regions may enable particular combinations to influence the pleasantness of foods.