The presence of carbohydrate in the human mouth has been associated with the facilitation of motor output and improvements in physical performance. Oral receptors have been identified as a potential mode of afferent transduction for this novel form of nutrient signalling that is distinct from taste. In the current study oral exposure to carbohydrate was combined with a motor task in a neuroimaging environment to identify areas of the brain involved in this phenomenon. A mouth-rinsing protocol was conducted whilst carbohydrate (CHO) and taste-matched placebo (PLA) solutions were delivered and recovered from the mouths of 10 healthy volunteers within a double-blind, counterbalanced design. This protocol eliminates post-oral factors and controls for the perceptual qualities of solutions. Functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain was used to identify cortical areas responsive to oral carbohydrate during rest and activity phases of a hand-grip motor task. Mean blood-oxygen-level dependent signal change experienced in the contralateral primary sensorimotor cortex was larger for CHO compared with PLA during the motor task when contrasted with a control condition. Areas of activation associated with CHO exclusively were observed over the primary taste cortex and regions involved in visual perception. Regions in the limbic system associated with reward were also significantly more active with CHO. This is the first demonstration that oral carbohydrate signalling can increase activation within the primary sensorimotor cortex during physical activity and enhance activation of neural networks involved in sensory perception.
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