Theses Doctoral

Integration of Taste and Odor in Agranular Insular Cortex

Vignovich, Martin Nicholas

Our perception of the world is limited by the senses we are endowed with. In the case of taste, its functional fidelity is so critical for our survival that we come into the world with innate preference for sweet and disgust for bitter. These stereotyped behaviors are hardwired at the lowest levels of taste processing and they support the view that taste serves as an arbiter of the chemical world, passing judgement before permitting ingestion. Yet our experience of foods is manifold. This complexity results from distinct contributions from the sights, sounds and smells of the foods we consume. Of these, odors are a co-equal component of flavor and the impairment of olfaction can disrupt enjoyment of eating and alter patterns of consumption. The goal of this thesis is to identify the neural basis of odor-taste perception and to characterize how neural activity is affected by odor-taste integration. In contrast to the discrete and innate categorization performed by the taste system, the sense of smell enables discrimination of thousands of unique odor percepts which have no innate value. At the level of olfactory cortex, odor representations are randomly distributed and have been shown to be conditioned through association with other stimuli. The act of eating produces near simultaneous taste and odor transduction originating from the same source. Yet despite ultimately projecting to neighboring cortical regions, taste and odor pathways are anatomically segregated prior to reaching the cortex. Using viral tracing strategies, we identified Agranular Insular cortex (AIc) as a putative site of odor-taste integration. We then used in vivo two-photon Ca2+ Imaging to characterize odor and taste responsive neurons and identify changes in population activity when these stimuli were simultaneously presented. We next asked whether specific flavor experiences altered activity in AIc compared to naive animals. Finally, we developed a behavioral task to test whether silencing AIc disrupted perception of a flavor compound.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Zuker, Charles S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 23, 2019