The responses of a total of 70 single neurons were recorded from the parabrachial nuclei (PBN) in awake rats. In 59 neurons, sapid stimuli (0.5 ml) elicited significant taste responses. Of these 59 neurons, 10 also had significant responses to water. The mean spontaneous rate of the taste neurons was 13.4 ± 6.9 (SD) spikes/s. Of the remaining 11 neurons, 9 responded significantly only to water; 2 had no significant responses to the standard fluid stimuli. Based on the magnitude of their response to our four standard stimuli, the taste neurons were classified as follows: 42 NaCl-best, 14 sucrose-best, 2 citric acid-best, and 1 QHCl-best. Of these, 25 responded only to one of four sapid stimuli; 20 of these specific cells responded only to NaCl. All the remaining 34 neurons responded to two or more of the four sapid stimuli, with NaCl and sucrose responsiveness dominant. For the 59 taste neurons, the mean entropy for the absolute value of the responses was 0.68; for the excitatory activity alone, it was 0.58. The mean responses to NaCl and sucrose concentration series increased monotonically. Except at the lowest concentration, responses to citric acid also increased monotonically, but with a lower slope. Mean responses to QHCl, however, remained stable or even decreased with increasing concentration. Thus the power functions for the NaCl and sucrose intensity-response series were higher than those of citric acid and QHCl. A hierarchical cluster analysis of 59 parabrachial neurons suggested four different categories: NaCl-best, sucrose-best, citric acid-best, and QHCl-best. These categories were less evident in the two-dimensional space produced by multidimensional analysis, because the positions of NaCl- and sucrose-best neurons formed a continuum in which neural response profiles change successively from sucrose-specific to NaCl-specific. The results were consistent with previous anatomic and neurophysiological data suggesting convergence in the medulla of sensory input from receptors in the nasoincisor ducts (NID) and on the anterior tongue (AT). Taste buds in the NID respond preferentially to sucrose, whereas those on the AT respond more to NaCl. Nevertheless, in this study, specific-type neurons are more common, and acid-sensitive neurons less common, than those observed in previous studies of lower brain stem taste neurons conducted using general anesthesia. The mean spontaneous rate of the cells in the present sample was higher than those reported in previous studies that used anesthetized-rats, but was comparable with that reported in another study that used awake - but pharmacologically immobilized rats. The mean response rates to the concentration series in the present study also were higher than those reported in previous studies with anesthetized or decerebrated rats.
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