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Bitter Taste Stimuli Induce Differential Neural Codes in Mouse Brain


A growing literature suggests taste stimuli commonly classified as "bitter" induce heterogeneous neural and perceptual responses. Here, the central processing of bitter stimuli was studied in mice with genetically controlled bitter taste profiles. Using these mice removed genetic heterogeneity as a factor influencing gustatory neural codes for bitter stimuli. Electrophysiological activity (spikes) was recorded from single neurons in the nucleus tractus solitarius during oral delivery of taste solutions (26 total), including concentration series of the bitter tastants quinine, denatonium benzoate, cycloheximide, and sucrose octaacetate (SOA), presented to the whole mouth for 5 s. Seventy-nine neurons were sampled; in many cases multiple cells (2 to 5) were recorded from a mouse. Results showed bitter stimuli induced variable gustatory activity. For example, although some neurons responded robustly to quinine and cycloheximide, others displayed concentration-dependent activity (p<0.05) to quinine but not cycloheximide. Differential activity to bitter stimuli was observed across multiple neurons recorded from one animal in several mice. Across all cells, quinine and denatonium induced correlated spatial responses that differed (p<0.05) from those to cycloheximide and SOA. Modeling spatiotemporal neural ensemble activity revealed responses to quinine/denatonium and cycloheximide/SOA diverged during only an early, at least 1 s wide period of the taste response. Our findings highlight how temporal features of sensory processing contribute differences among bitter taste codes and build on data suggesting heterogeneity among "bitter" stimuli, data that challenge a strict monoguesia model for the bitter quality.

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