Cellular mechanisms of taste transduction

Annu Rev Physiol. 1999;61:873-900. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.61.1.873.


Taste receptor cells respond to gustatory stimuli using a complex arrangement of receptor molecules, signaling cascades, and ion channels. When stimulated, these cells produce action potentials that result in the release of neurotransmitter onto an afferent nerve fiber that in turn relays the identity and intensity of the gustatory stimuli to the brain. A variety of mechanisms are used in transducing the four primary tastes. Direct interaction of the stimuli with ion channels appears to be of particular importance in transducing stimuli reported as salty or sour, whereas the second messenger systems cyclic AMP and inositol trisphosphate are important in transducing bitter and sweet stimuli. In addition to the four basic tastes, specific mechanisms exist for the amino acid glutamate, which is sometimes termed the fifth primary taste, and for fatty acids, a so-called nonconventional taste stimulus. The emerging picture is that not only do individual taste qualities use more than one mechanism, but multiple pathways are available for individual tastants as well.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Taste / physiology*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents