Each taste, from sweet to salty, is sensed by a unique set of neurons in the brains of mice, new research reveals. The findings demonstrate that neurons that respond to specific tastes are arranged discretely in what the scientists call a “gustotopic map.” This is the first map that shows how taste is represented in the mammalian brain.
There’s no mistaking the sweetness of a ripe peach for the saltiness of a potato chip – in part due to highly specialized, selectively-tuned cells in the tongue that detect each unique taste. Now, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and NIH scientists have added to our understanding of how we perceive taste, showing that four of our basic tastes—sweet, bitter, salty, and “umami,” or savory—are also processed by distinct areas of the brain. The researchers published their work in the September 2, 2011, issue of the journal Science.