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Recent Advances in Taste and Smell Research

Transduction Mechanisms

  • Chemosensory transduction mechanisms—the processes that enable the conversion of detection into an electrical signal—are employed widely throughout the body and are implicated in regulation of digestive58-61 as well as respiratory functions.62, 63 New families of chemosensory receptors (TAARs, FPRs) have been discovered that could detect chemical cues used for communication or odors that signal disease.64, 65
  • Researchers have discovered diverse receptor cell types and mechanisms in chemosensory transduction in the gustatory (taste) and olfactory systems.66-69

How Genes and Environment Affect Food Preference

  • Both experience and genetic variation in taste and smell receptor genes affect innate likes and dislikes. Thus, the chemical senses play key roles in the regulation of food intake that underlies major health issues such as obesity and diabetes.70-73
  • The discovery that children and adults experience chemical senses differently has broad implications for the role of flavor in diet selection and health across the lifespan as well as for basic research into the organization and maintenance of chemosensory pathways.72-75

Chemical Senses and Disease

  • Some heritable diseases (e.g., channelopathies76, 77 and ciliopathies78) as well as neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease79) have a correlated chemosensory dysfunction that scientists may use to help diagnose diseases or gauge the effectiveness of treatment.
  • Understanding invertebrate chemoreceptor mechanisms and sensitivities has opened avenues for control and prevention of critical insect-borne diseases such as malaria,80 dengue fever,81 and encephalitis.82

Neural Circuitry

  • Researchers better understand the divisions of function in cortical structures that interpret chemical senses information83 and how these circuits fail in pathology.79, 84, 85
  • Scientists have gained knowledge of how cortical circuits create and read odor patterns and the basic circuitry and physiology of these circuits.86-91
  • Artificial neural networks and optical imaging have been used to define and dissect the circuitry and coding in the chemical senses.92, 93
  • Adult-born neurons can be functionally and synaptically integrated into neural circuits94-96.
  • Researchers have discovered the circuitry underlying odor-specific behaviors.97-99