Several studies have shown that tasteresponsive cells in the brainstem taste nuclei of rodents respond to sensory qualities other than gustation. Such data suggest that cells in the classical gustatory brainstem may be better tuned to respond to stimuli that engage multiple sensory modalities than to stimuli that are purely gustatory. Here, we test this idea by recording the electrophysiological responses to complex, naturalistic stimuli in single neurons in the parabrachial pons (PbN, the second neural relay in the central gustatory pathway) in awake, freely licking rats. Following electrode implantation and recovery, we presented both prototypical and naturalistic taste stimuli and recorded the responses in the PbN. Prototypical taste stimuli (NaCl, sucrose, citric acid, and caffeine) and naturalistic stimuli (clam juice, grape juice, lemon juice, and coffee) were matched for taste quality and intensity (concentration). Umami (monosodium glutamate + inosine monophosphate) and fat (diluted heavy cream) were also tested. PbN neurons responded to naturalistic stimuli as much or more than to prototypical taste stimuli. Furthermore, they convey more information about naturalistic stimuli than about prototypical ones. Moreover, multidimensional scaling analyses showed that across unit responses to naturalistic stimuli were more widely separated than responses to prototypical taste stimuli. Interestingly, cream evoked a robust and widespread response in PbN cells. Collectively, these data suggest that natural foods are more potent stimulators of PbN cells than purely gustatory stimuli. Probing PbN cells with pure taste stimuli may underestimate the response repertoire of these cells.
- Neural coding
- Temporal coding