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E.T. Rolls

Edmund T. Rolls


To investigate the neural encoding of glutamate (umami) taste in the primate, recordings were made from taste responsive neurons in the cortical taste areas in macaques. Most of the neurons were in the orbitofrontal cortex (secondary) taste area. First, it was shown that there is a representation of the taste of glutamate which is separate from the representation of the other prototypical tastants sweet (glucose), salt (NaCl), bitter (quinine) and sour (HCl). Second, it was shown that single neurons that had their best responses to sodium glutamate also had good responses to glutamic acid. Third, it was shown that the responses of these neurons to the nucleotide umami tastant inosine 5′-monophosphate were more correlated with their responses to monosodium glutamate than to any prototypical tastant. Fourth, concentration-response curves showed that concentrations of monosodium glutamate as low as 0.001 M were just above threshold for some of these neurons. Fifth, some neurons in the orbitofrontal region, which responded to monosodium glutamate and other food tastes, decreased their responses after feeding with monosodium glutamate to behavioural satiety, revealing a mechanism of satiety. In some cases this reduction was sensory-specific. Sixth, it was shown in psychophysical experiments in humans that the flavor of umami is strongest with a combination of corresponding taste and olfactory stimuli (e.g. monosodium glutamate and garlic odor). The hypothesis is proposed that part of the way in which glutamate works as a flavor enhancer is by acting in combination with corresponding food odors. The appropriate associations between the odor and the glutamate taste may be learned at least in part by olfactory to taste association learning in the primate orbitofrontal cortex. Seventh, in neuroimaging experiments with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in humans, it was shown that in humans umami taste produced by monosodium glutamate or by inosine monophosphate produced activation in a region of the anterior insula which is the putative human primary taste cortex and in a part of the orbitofrontal cortex which is the putative human secondary taste cortex.