To summarize how we perceive and interpret flavors, let's follow some food into your mouth. It's a warm June day and as you drive through the countryside, you see a roadside stand ahead. Stopping, you buy a flat of freshly picked strawberries to make jam, but you grab a few to sample. As you bite into the first one, the tart but sweet juice squishes out and floods your mouth; escaping molecules waft into your nose and assail your odor receptors. Many types of molecules are present, and each fits into a slot on a taste or odor membrane receptor that can accommodate only that class of molecular structures.
As soon as the molecules stick to their receptors, both ion channels and second messenger systems go into gear, quickly causing each stimulated cell to produce an electrical signal. The signals flash through the axons of taste and olfactory sensory neurons and on to cells in the brain. The messages zip to several places by way of axons from secondary or relay neurons. Messages to the limbic system give you that "aahhh" feeling, others activate memories of previous strawberries, warm summer days, and steaming pots of bubbling jam. Still other pathways stimulate motor centers to cause salivation, chewing, and swallowing. The signals to your frontal cortex activate motor neurons that allow you to say, "Wow!" and you turn around to buy a second flat of berries.
The experiences of perceiving and interpreting the strawberry flavor are the result of activating a pattern of neural components, and in turn, a pattern specific memories, feelings, and thoughts.
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