Ever burn your tongue so badly that you were not able to taste your food for a few days? Luckily, an unique function of taste cells is that they continually regenerate every ten to 14 days. Now, a new study from the Monell Middle and collaborating institutions advances understanding of how stem tissue on the tongue grow into the different types of mature taste tissue that detect either sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or even umami.

By identifying book genes and molecular pathways involved in shaping a flavor cell’s function, these findings may someday allow researchers to treat taste disorders, characterize new taste qualities, as well as fine-tune a person’s taste perception to encourage healthier consuming.

“We still have many open questions about how exactly the sense of taste works. Some of these newly-discovered genetics may help us better understand how a taste cell picks up a given taste quality, ” said Monell Center molecular neurobiologist Peihua Jiang, PhD, the study’s senior writer. “Who knows, someday we may be able to use this knowledge to create fewer bitter cells in a bitter-sensitive person to help that individual enjoy healthy bitter-tasting vegetables. ”

Flavor cells are located in clusters called taste buds, which in turn are normally found in papillae, the raised bumps visible on the tongue’s surface. Two different types of specialized taste cells contain the chemical substance receptors and intracellular molecular machinery needed to initiate the particular perception of taste. A third type appears to serve as the supporting cell.

In 2013, Jiang assisted identify the stem, or progenitor, cell that gives increase to these three different taste cell types. Moving forward, he or she was able to place these taste stem cells in a tradition dish and prompt them to grow into the different older taste cell types, thus creating a taste bud within a dish — scientifically known as taste organoids.

In the current paper, published online in the open access journal Scientific Reports , Jiang and his collaborators analyzed taste organoids at different stages of growth to distinguish which genes are turned on at each stage of flavor cell generation.

Using a powerful genetic technologies called RNA-seq, these experiments revealed a nearly extensive list of all the genes, including some not previously discovered, that guide the development of taste cells. The studies furthermore revealed when during taste cell differentiation these genetics influence whether a given taste cell ultimately will react to either salty, sweet, sour, bitter or umami.

Other experiments expanded the findings to provide hints about the molecular signals that may direct the taste stem tissue to go down one path or another. Using pharmacological strategies, the researchers identified the so-called signaling proteins inside the immature taste cells that cause the developing tissues to multiply and turn into specific cell types. These types of studies revealed the important roles of several signaling paths, including ones not previously known to play a role in flavor.

“By better understanding how our taste tissues detect and translate information about the chemical constituents of our own food, we may be able to confirm how humans detect poorly-understood qualities such as fat or calcium, or even identify completely new tastes, ” said study co-author Robert Margolskee, MD, PhD, also a Monell molecular neurobiologist.

Jiang notes that the research may have treatment implications to get patients who lose their sense of taste subsequent radiation for head and neck cancers. “Understanding how taste tissue grow may help us develop novel strategies to help individuals with taste disorders, ” he said.

Moving forward, the researchers want to identify the functions from the newly-discovered taste genes. Other studies will focus on much better understanding the molecular signaling that guides taste cell difference and function.

“This is basic research on its best, ” said Jiang. “We need to know exactly how taste cells grow and work in normal situations prior to we can harness this knowledge to help people. ”