Regional brain responses associated with using imagination to evoke and satiate thirst

Pascal Saker, Steve Carey, Marcus Grohmann, Michael J. Farrell, Philip J. Ryan, Gary F. Egan, Michael J. McKinley, Derek A. Denton

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2 Citations (Scopus)


In response to dehydration, humans experience thirst. This subjective state is fundamental to survival as it motivates drinking, which subsequently corrects the fluid deficit. To elicit thirst, previous studies have manipulated blood chemistry to produce a physiological thirst stimulus. In the present study, we investigated whether a physiological stimulus is indeed required for thirst to be experienced. Functional MRI (fMRI) was used to scan fully hydrated participants while they imagined a state of intense thirst and while they imagined drinking to satiate thirst. Subjective ratings of thirst were significantly higher for imagining thirst compared with imagining drinking or baseline, revealing a successful dissociation of thirst from underlying physiology. The imagine thirst condition activated brain regions similar to those reported in previous studies of physiologically evoked thirst, including the anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC), anterior insula, precentral gyrus, inferior frontal gyrus, middle frontal gyrus, and operculum, indicating a similar neural network underlies both imagined thirst and physiologically evoked thirst. Analogous brain regions were also activated during imagined drinking, suggesting the neural representation of thirst contains a drinking-related component. Finally, the aMCC showed an increase in functional connectivity with the insula during imagined thirst relative to imagined drinking, implying functional connectivity between these two regions is needed before thirst can be experienced. As a result of these findings, this study provides important insight into how the neural representation of subjective thirst is generated and how it subsequently motivates drinking behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13750-13756
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2020


  • Cingulate
  • Dehydration
  • FMRI
  • Insula
  • Thirst

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