The Neuronal Encoding of Oral Fat by the Coefficient of Sliding Friction in the Cerebral Cortex and Amygdala
Fat in the diet contributes to the pleasant mouthfeel of many foods, but overconsumption may contribute to obesity. Here we analyze what properties of fat in the mouth are sensed, by analyzing the responses of neurons in the macaque insular taste cortex, and two areas to which it projects the orbitofrontal cortex where the pleasantness of fat is represented, and the amygdala. We discovered that the firing rate responses of these fat-responsive neurons are correlated with the coefficient of sliding friction (CSF) and not with viscosity which reflects food thickness. Other, not fat-sensitive, neurons encoded viscosity and not the CSF. Neuronal population analyses confirmed that fat-responsive neurons conveyed information about the CSF but not about viscosity. Conversely the viscosity-sensitive neuronal population conveyed information about viscosity but not about the CSF. This new understanding of the representation of oral fat in the cerebral cortex and amygdala opens the way for the systematic development of foods with the pleasant mouthfeel of fat, together with ideal nutritional content and has great potential to contribute to healthy eating and a healthy body weight.