1. Taste qualities are believed to be coded in the activity of ensembles of taste neurons. However, it is not clear whether all neurons are equally responsible for coding. To clarify the point, the relative contribution of each taste neuron to coding needs to be assessed. 2. We constructed simple three-layer neural networks with input units representing cortical taste neurons of the rat. The networks were trained by the hack-propagation learning algorithm to classify the neural response patterns to the basic taste stimuli (sucrose, HCl, quinine hydrochloride, and NaCl). The networks had four output units representing the basic taste qualities, the values of which provide a measure for similarity of test stimuli (salts, tartaric acid, and umami substances) to the basic taste stimuli. 3. Trained networks discriminated the response patterns to the test stimuli in a plausible manner in light of previous physiological and psychological experiments. Profiles of output values of the networks paralleled those of across-neuron correlations with respect to the highest or second-highest values in the profiles. 4. We evaluated relative contributions of input units to the taste discrimination of the network by examining their significance S(i), which is defined as the sum of the absolute values of the connection weights from the with input unit to the hidden layer. When the input units with weaker connection weights (e.g., 15 of 39 input units) were 'pruned' from the trained network, the ability of the network to discriminate the basic taste qualities as well as other test stimuli was not greatly affected. On the other hand, the taste discrimination of the network progressively deteriorated much more rapidly with pruning of input units with stronger connection weights. 5. These results suggest that cortical taste neurons differentially contribute to the coding of taste qualities. The pruning technique may enable the evaluation of a given taste neuron in terms of its relative contribution to the coding, with S1 providing a quantitative measure for such evaluation.
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