Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders



Dietsch 0000-0003-4554-5365

Westemeyer 0000-0001-5803-8173

Schultz 0000-0003-0809-9036

Document Type


Date of this Version



Brain and Behavior (2023): e2928

doi: 10.1002/brb3.2928


Open access

License: CC BY 4.0


Purpose: Neuroplasticity may be enhanced by increasing brain activation and bloodflow in neural regions relevant to the target behavior.We administered precisely formulated and dosed taste stimuli to determine whether the associated brain activity patterns included areas that underlie swallowing control.

Methods: Five taste stimuli (unflavored, sour, sweet-sour, lemon, and orange suspensions) were administered in timing-regulated and temperature-controlled 3 mL doses via a customized pump/tubing system to 21 healthy adults during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Whole-brain analyses of fMRI data assessed main effects of taste stimulation as well as differential effects of taste profile.

Results: Differences in brain activity associated with taste stimulation overall as well as specific stimulus type were observed in key taste and swallowing regions including the orbitofrontal cortex, insula, cingulate, and pre- and postcentral gyri. Overall, taste stimulation elicited increased activation in swallowing-related brain regions compared to unflavored trials. Different patterns of blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal were noted by taste profile. For most areas, sweet-sour and sour trials elicited increases in BOLD compared to unflavored trials within that region, whereas lemon and orange trials yielded reductions inBOLD. This was despite identical concentrations of citric acid and sweetener in the lemon, orange, and sweet-sour solutions.

Conclusions: These results suggest that neural activity in swallowing-relevant regions can be amplified with taste stimuli and may be differentially affected by specific properties within very similar taste profiles. These findings provide critical foundational information for interpreting disparities in previous studies of taste effects on brain activity and swallowing function, defining optimal stimuli to increase brain activity in swallowing-relevant regions, and harnessing taste to enhance neuroplasticity and recovery for persons with swallowing disorders.