Our sense of taste starts to develop as soon as we leave our mother’s womb, and continues to change as we grow older. Unfortunately, as we approach old age, our taste buds’ ability to differentiate between the different types of taste may begin to deteriorate, spoiling our enjoyment of food. However, recent research carried out at The Columbia University has clarified the link between our taste buds and our brains, giving scientists the potential to reverse the loss of taste sensation experienced by elderly people.
How does our brain perceive taste?
Our tongue has an incredible 8,000 taste buds, all of which have the capability to sense each of the different categories of taste. However, specialised cells within each taste bud are responsive to either salty, sweet, sour, bitter or umani tastes, and send messages about what they are tasting to the brain.
A direct link between the tongue and the brain
The Columbia team carried out research on mice whose brains had been specially engineered so that their taste neurons fluoresced when they were activated. By training endoscopes on the neurons deep in the base of the mice’s brains, they were able to see the effects of their taste buds being subjected to chemicals which mimicked salty, bitter, sweet, sour or umani tastes. The results showed that there is a direct link between the tongue and the brain, and that certain cells in the tongue are directly correlated to different tastes.
How will this benefit the elderly?
As older people begin to lose their sense of taste it can take away the enjoyment of eating food. The team at Columbia University, led by Professor Charles Zuker, believe that this is due to changes in the taste cells in the tongue. Usually new taste cells are produced every fourteen days, however this process naturally slows down as we age. These new findings have provided a clear understanding of how the taste sense functions, giving scientists the information they need to come up with solutions and ways to enhance that function, such as making existing cells more responsive so that they are able to send stronger signals to the brain.