Our goal was to use functional MRI (fMRI) to measure brain activation in response to imagination of tastes in humans.
fMRI brain scans were obtained in 31 subjects (12 men, 19 women) using multislice FLASH MRI and echo planar imaging (EPI) in response to imagination of tastes of salt and sweet in coronal sections selected from anterior to posterior temporal brain regions. Activation images were derived using correlation analysis, and ratios of areas of brain activated to total brain areas were calculated. Total activated pixel counts were used to quantitate regional brain activation.
Activation was present in each section in all subjects after imagination of each tastant. Activation was similar in response to imagination of either salt or sweet and was quantitatively similar to that previously reported in response to imagination of odors of banana and peppermint. Activation was similar in both men and women as opposed to previous results of odor memory in which activation in men was greater than in women. However, subjective responses of intensity of imagined tastes were significantly greater than those previously obtained for odor memory and were consistently, albeit not significantly, greater in women than in men, similar to results previously reported for odor memory. Brain regions activated in response to taste imagination were consistent with regions previously described as involved with actual taste perception in both humans and animals. Regional brain localization for salt and sweet memories could not be differentiated.
These studies indicate that (a) tastes can be imagined, (b) brain regions activated for taste imagination are consistent with regions previously described for actual taste perception, and (c) similar to odor memory for banana and menthone, regional brain localization for salt or sweet taste memories could not be differentiated.