Quality time: Representation of a multidimensional sensory domain through temporal coding

Patricia M. Di Lorenzo, Jen Yung Chen, Jonathan D. Victor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Receptive fields of sensory neurons in the brain are usually restricted to a portion of the entire stimulus domain. At all levels of the gustatory neuraxis, however, there are many cells that are broadly tuned, i.e., they respond well to each of the basic taste qualities (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). Although it might seem that this broad tuning precludes a major role for these cells in representing taste space, here we show the opposite - namely, that the tastant-specific temporal aspects (firing rate envelope and spike timing) of their responses enable each cell to represent the entire stimulus domain. Specifically, we recorded the response patterns of cells in the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) to representatives of four basic taste qualities and their binary mixtures. We analyzed the temporal aspects of these responses, and used their similarities and differences to construct the taste space represented by each neuron.Wefound that for the more broadly tuned neurons in the NTS, the taste space is a systematic representation of the entire taste domain. That is, the taste space of these broadly tuned neurons is three dimensional, with basic taste qualities widely separated and binary mixtures placed close to their components. Further, the way that taste quality is represented by the firing rate envelope is consistent across the population of cells. Thus, the temporal characteristics of responses in the population of NTS neurons, especially those that are more broadly tuned, produce a comprehensive and logical representation of the taste world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9227-9238
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number29
StatePublished - 22 Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes


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