Ever wondered how and why your tongue gets the taste right? Why is it that the chocolate pudding always tastes sweet, and not as course and bitter as a bitter gourd sabzi? Scientists have, in a latest study, tried to explain the mechanism of the tongue. Turns out signals sent by the tongue's taste cells prevent the brain from confusing between bitter and sweet tastes. And a much deeper wiring and connection between tongue and brain goes into play to distinguish the taste from one another.
The study published in the journal Nature indicated that human beings perceive taste through the smooth functioning of thousands of tiny sensory organs called taste buds, which are located mostly on the upper surface of the tongue. Each of these taste buds also contain about 50 to 100 taste cells, which contain receptors that can detect and distinguish each type of taste - sweet, bitter, sour, salty or pungent. These taste cells then relay this information from the tongue to the brain in a fraction of a second, which then leads to your particular perception of the dish.
Keeping this knowledge in mind, scientists were able to rewire the taste-system of mice to perceive sweet stimuli as bitter tastes, and vice versa. The findings provide several new insights into how the tongue keeps its sense of taste in place despite the swift turnover of the cells in its taste buds, the researchers said.
Hojoon Lee, Associate Research Scientist at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in the US said, "Most portions of the brain circuits that govern taste are hardwired at birth, except in the tongue, where the cells in our taste buds - taste receptor cells - connect to taste neurons."
"It's a highly dynamic process. Taste cells are replaced every one to three weeks, and one type of receptor may be replaced by a different type. Each time a new taste receptor cell is made, it needs to make the right connection with the brain," Lee added.
It was found that when taste receptor cells are produced, the cells express dedicated molecular signals that attract the right complement of taste neurons. "The taste system gives us a unique opportunity to explore how connections between taste cells and neurons are wired and preserved, in the face of random turnover of our sensory cells" Lee added.
So, the next time you like the taste of a dish, remember a whole army of taste buds has done its job to make sure you perceive the flavours of the dish in the intended way.
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