Cortical network for representing the teeth and tongue in primates

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Abstract

Sensory information from the tongue and teeth is used to evaluate and distinguish food and nonfood items in the mouth, reject some and masticate and swallow others. While it is known that primates have a complex array of 10 or more somatosensory areas that contribute to the analysis of sensory information from the hand, less is known about what cortical areas are involved in processing information from receptors of the tongue and teeth. The tongue contains taste receptors, as well as mechanoreceptors. Afferents from taste receptors and mechanoreceptors of the tongue access different ascending systems in the brainstem. However, it is uncertain how these two sources of information are processed in cortex. Here the parts of somatosensory areas 3b, 3a, and presumptive 1 that represent the mechanoreceptors of the teeth and tongue are identified, and evidence is presented that the representations of the tongue also get information from the taste nucleus of the thalamus, VPMpc. As areas 3b, 3a, and 1 project to other areas of somatosensory cortex, and those areas to additional areas, some or all of the currently defined somatosensory areas of cortex may be involved in processing gustatory, as well as tactile, information from the tongue and thus have a role in the biologically important function of evaluating food in the mouth. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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