Department of Computer Science, Oxford Centre for Computational Neuroscience, Oxford CV4 7AL, UK
Complementary neuronal recordings and functional neuroimaging in human subjects show that the primary taste cortex in the anterior insula provides separate and combined representations of the taste, temperature and texture (including fat texture) of food in the mouth independently of hunger and thus of reward value and pleasantness. One synapse on, in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), these sensory inputs are for some neurons combined by learning with olfactory and visual inputs, and these neurons encode food reward in that they only respond to food when hungry, and in that activations correlate with subjective pleasantness. Cognitive factors, including word-level descriptions, and attention modulate the representation of the reward value of food in the OFC and a region to which it projects, the anterior cingulate cortex. Further, there are individual differences in the representation of the reward value of food in the OFC. It is argued that over-eating and obesity are related in many cases to an increased reward value of the sensory inputs produced by foods, and their modulation by cognition and attention that over-ride existing satiety signals. It is proposed that control of all rather than one or several of these factors that influence food reward and eating may be important in the prevention and treatment of overeating and obesity.
(Online publication September 19 2012)