Gut taste stimulants alter brain activity in areas related to working memory: A pilot study

Anne Christin Meyer-Gerspach, Claudia Suenderhauf, Lukas Bereiter, Davide Zanchi, Christoph Beglinger, Stefan Borgwardt, Bettina K. Wolnerhanssen

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background/Aims: Taste perception is one of the most important primary oral reinforcers, driving nutrient and energy intake as well as toxin avoidance. Taste receptors in the gastrointestinal tract might as well impact appetitive or aversive behavior and thus influence learning tasks and a close relation of neural taste processing and working memory networks seems plausible. Methods: In the present pilot study, we determined the effects of fve taste qualities bitter (quinine), sweet (glucose), sour (citric acid), salty (NaCl) and umami (monosodium glutamate, MSG) on working memory processing using functional MRI and their effect on plasma insulin and glucose levels. On six separate occasions, subjects received one of the following test substances dissolved in 200 mL tap water via a nasogastric tube (to circumvent the oral cavity): 1) 2g citric acid corresponding to 52 mM, 2) 2g NaCl; 171 mM, 3) 0.017g quinine; 0.26 mM, 4) 1g monosodium glutamate; 30 mM, 5) 25g glucose; 694 mM and 6) 200 mL tap water (placebo). Results: The taste qualities bitter and umami signifcantly altered brain activation patterns in the primary gustatory cortex as well as in subcortical structures, previously reported to be involved in emotional learning and memory. In contrast, glucose did not reveal any statistically signifcant brain activation difference. Working memory performance was not different over the six treatments. Plasma insulin and glucose levels were not affected by the different taste substances (MSG, quinine, NaCl and citric acid). Conclusions: in this pilot trial, we demonstrate that acute intragastric administration of different taste substances does not affect working memory performance in humans. However, umami and bitter have effects on brain areas involved in neural working memory, overpowering the effects of sweet, salty and sour reception.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)59-80
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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