Human brain mapping

Superadditive opercular activation to food flavor is mediated by enhanced temporal and limbic coupling.

PMID 25545699


Food perception is characterized by a transition from initially separate sensations of the olfactory and gustatory properties of the object toward their combined sensory experience during consumption. The holistic flavor experience, which occurs as the smell and taste merge, extends beyond the mere addition of the two chemosensory modalities, being usually perceived as more object-like, intense and rewarding. To explore the cortical mechanisms which give rise to olfactory-gustatory binding during natural food consumption, brain activation during consumption of a pleasant familiar beverage was contrasted with presentation of its taste and orthonasal smell alone. Convergent activation to all presentation modes was observed in executive and chemosensory association areas. Flavor, but not orthonasal smell or taste alone, stimulated the frontal operculum, supporting previous accounts of its central role in the formation of the flavor percept. A functional dissociation was observed in the insula: the anterior portion was characterized by sensory convergence, while mid-dorsal sections activated exclusively to the combined flavor stimulus. psycho-physiological interaction analyses demonstrated increased neural coupling between the frontal operculum and the anterior insula during flavor presentation. Connectivity was also increased with the lateral entorhinal cortex, a relay to memory networks and central node for contextual modulation of olfactory processing. These findings suggest a central role of the insular cortex in the transition from mere detection of chemosensory convergence to a superadditive flavor representation. The increased connections between the frontal operculum and medial temporal memory structures during combined olfactory-gustatory stimulation point to a potential mechanism underlying the acquisition and modification of flavor preferences.