Many species of caterpillar possess taste cells that respond exceptionally vigorously to the sugar alcohol myo-inositol. We examined the functional significance of these inositol-sensitive taste cells in Manduca sexta caterpillars through an integrated series of electrophysiological and behavioral studies. Neural recordings from all the gustatory chemosensilla revealed that M. sexta have only two pairs of inositol-sensitive taste cells, which respond strongly and selectively to myo-inositol, and two pairs of sugar-sensitive taste cells, which respond relatively weakly to sugars (glucose and sucrose). Behavioral studies established that myo-inositol incites feeding and counteracts the inhibitory effects of aversive taste stimuli (e.g. caffeine) on feeding, but does not promote increased consumption once feeding has been initiated. In contrast, glucose and sucrose did not produce any robust effects on feeding. We failed to obtain any evidence of sensory inhibition between taste cells that responded to myo-inositol and caffeine, indicating that myo-inositol counteracts the inhibitory effects of caffeine on feeding through a central gustatory mechanism. We conclude that sensory input from the inositol-sensitive taste cells, but not the sugar-sensitive taste cells, plays an important role in regulating feeding in M. sexta.
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