Evolutionary conserved brainstem circuits encode category, concentration and mixtures of taste
Evolutionary conserved brainstem circuits are the first relay for gustatory information in the vertebrate brain.
While the brainstem circuits act as our life support system and they mediate vital taste related behaviors, the principles of gustatory computations in these circuits are poorly understood. By a combination of two-photon calcium imaging and quantitative animal behavior in juvenile zebrafish, we showed that taste categories are represented by dissimilar brainstem responses and generate different behaviors. We also showed that the concentration of sour and bitter tastes are encoded by different principles and with different levels of sensitivity. Moreover, we observed that the taste mixtures lead to synergistic and suppressive interactions. Our results suggest that these interactions in early brainstem circuits can result in non-linear computations, such as dynamic gain modulation and discrete representation of taste mixtures, which can be utilized for detecting food items at broad range of concentrations of tastes and rejecting inedible substances.