Physiology of Taste Processing in the Tongue, Gut, and Brain.
The gustatory system detects and informs us about the nature of various chemicals we put in our mouth. Some of these have nutritive value (sugars, amino acids, salts, and fats) and are appetitive and avidly ingested, whereas others (atropine, quinine, nicotine) are aversive and rapidly rejected. However, the gustatory system is mainly responsible for evoking the perception of a limited number of qualities that humans taste as sweet, umami, bitter, sour, salty, and perhaps fat [free fatty acids (FFA)] and starch (malto-oligosaccharides). The complex flavors and mouthfeel that we experience while eating food result from the integration of taste, odor, texture, pungency, and temperature. The latter three arise primarily from the somatosensory (trigeminal) system. The sensory organs used for detecting and transducing many chemicals are found in taste buds (TBs) located throughout the tongue, soft palate esophagus, and epiglottis. In parallel with the taste system, the trigeminal nerve innervates the peri-gemmal epithelium to transmit temperature, mechanical stimuli, and painful or cooling sensations such as those produced by changes in temperature as well as from chemicals like capsaicin and menthol, respectively. This article gives an overview of the current knowledge about these TB cells' anatomy and physiology and their trigeminal induced sensations. We then discuss how taste is represented across gustatory cortices using an intermingled and spatially distributed population code. Finally, we review postingestion processing (interoception) and central integration of the tongue-gut-brain interaction, ultimately determining our sensations as well as preferences toward the wholesomeness of nutritious foods. © 2021 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 11:1-35, 2021.
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