Taste buds are the transducing endorgans of gustation. Each taste bud comprises 50-100 elongated cells, which extend from the basal lamina to the surface of the tongue, where their apical microvilli encounter taste stimuli in the oral cavity. Salts and acids utilize apically located ion channels for transduction, while bitter, sweet and umami (glutamate) stimuli utilize G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and second-messenger signalling mechanisms. This review will focus on GPCR signalling mechanisms. Two classes of taste GPCRs have been identified, the T1Rs for sweet and umami (glutamate) stimuli and the T2Rs for bitter stimuli. These low affinity GPCRs all couple to the same downstream signalling effectors that include Gβγ activation of phospholipase Cβ2, 1,4,5-inositol trisphosphate mediated release of Ca(2+) from intracellular stores and Ca(2+) -dependent activation of the monovalent selective cation channel, TrpM5. These events lead to membrane depolarization, action potentials and release of ATP as a transmitter to activate gustatory afferents. The Gα subunit, α-gustducin, activates a phosphodiesterase to decrease intracellular cAMP levels, although the precise targets of cAMP have not been identified. With the molecular identification of the taste GPCRs, it has become clear that taste signalling is not limited to taste buds, but occurs in many cell types of the airways. These include solitary chemosensory cells, ciliated epithelial cells and smooth muscle cells. Bitter receptors are most abundantly expressed in the airways, where they respond to irritating chemicals and promote protective airway reflexes, utilizing the same downstream signalling effectors as taste cells.
© 2011 The Author. Acta Physiologica © 2011 Scandinavian Physiological Society.