We used a 2 X 2 factorial design to dissociate regions responding to taste intensity and taste affective valence. Two intensities each of a pleasant and unpleasant taste were presented to subjects during event-related fMRI scanning. The cerebellum, pons, middle insula, and amygdala responded to intensity irrespective of valence. In contrast, valence-specific responses were observed in anterior insula/operculum extending into the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). The right caudolateral OFC responded preferentially to pleasant compared to unpleasant taste, irrespective of intensity, and the left dorsal anterior insula/operculuar region responded preferentially to unpleasant compared to pleasant tastes equated for intensity. Responses best characterized as an interaction between intensity and pleasantness were also observed in several limbic regions. These findings demonstrate a functional segregation within the human gustatory system. They also show that amygdala activity may be driven by stimulus intensity irrespective of valence, casting doubt upon the notion that the amygdala responds preferentially to negative stimuli.
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