As I’ve mentioned recently, it’s my busy time for medical school teaching and not long ago we did a GI lab that included one of my favorite structures in the course: taste buds.
The medical students seem fascinated with taste buds too.
I can tell as their professor when something is particularly interesting because they ask more questions.
They sometimes just seem more excited too.
How do taste buds work?
The buds are located on little bumps or extensions of the tongue called papillae. Each taste bud has an enervated receptor. The taste receptor is a modified microvillus that is associated with a pore. In a similar way that our olfactory receptors in the nose can sense odorants that are taken in, taste receptors can sense “tastants” in food that we eat.
The tastants make their way into the taste pores. See diagram above.
Taste buds and health conditions like COVID19
Taste buds have relevance to diseases in several ways.
The buds can be damaged and that can impair taste. Some people who have had COVID19 have a lost of taste. Some of this loss of taste could be indirectly due to damage to the olfactory system in the nose.
However, it is also possible that the COVID virus directly infects taste buds cells or associate nerve cells, causing inflammation or damage.
People can also experience inflamed or swollen taste buds as well. Fortunately, this generally goes away quickly.
Normally you can’t see taste buds. What many people think they are seeing on their tongues and calling taste buds are actually the papillae on which the much smaller taste buds are located.
Taste bud stem cell research
Of course, teaching about these buds makes me wonder if there’s a stem cell connection too.
A PubMed search on taste buds and stem cells found just a few papers.
Some actual report on bud stem cells!
One reports making tongue organoids from taste bud stem cells. I wonder if they organoids fill with saliva. If you’re interested in cortical organoids, you can learn more in my explainer about brain organoids.
More weekly recommended reads
- DNGR-1-tracing marks an ependymal cell subset with damage-responsive neural stem cell potential, Dev. Cell.
- Resilience partners with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to help cell therapy startups, Endpoints.
- Optimized human intestinal organoid model reveals interleukin-22-dependency of paneth cell formation, Cell Stem Cell.
- The mitochondrial protein OPA1 regulates the quiescent state of adult muscle stem cells, Cell Stem Cell.