Recent advances in neural mechanisms of taste are reviewed with special reference to neuroactive substances. In the first section, taste transduction mechanisms of basic tastes are explained in two groups, whether taste stimuli directly activate ion channels in the taste cell membrane or they bind to cell surface receptors coupled to intracellular signaling pathways. In the second section, putative transmitters and modulators from taste cells to afferent nerves are summarized. The candidates include acetylcholine, catecholamines, serotonin, amino acids and peptides. Studies favor serotonin as a possible neuromodulator in the taste bud. In the third section, the role of neuroactive substances in the central gustatory pathways is introduced. Excitatory and inhibitory amino acids (e.g., glutamate and GABA) and peptides (substance P and calcitonin gene-related peptide) are proved to play roles in transmission of taste information in both the brainstem relay and cortical gustatory area. In the fourth section, conditioned taste aversion is introduced as a model to study gustatory learning and memory. Pharmacobehavioral studies to examine the effects of glutamate receptor antagonists and protein kinase C inhibitors on the formation of conditioned taste aversion show that both glutamate and protein kinase C in the amygdala and cortical gustatory area play essential roles in taste aversion learning. Recent molecular and genetic approaches to disclose biological mechanisms of gustatory learning are also introduced. In the last section, behavioral and pharmacological approaches to elucidate palatability, taste pleasure, are described. Dopamine, benzodiazepine derivatives and opioid substances may play some roles in evaluation of palatability and motivation to ingest palatable edibles.
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