Use of the Herb Gymnema sylvestre to Illustrate the Principles of Gustatory Sensation: An Undergraduate Neuroscience Laboratory Exercise

J Undergrad Neurosci Educ. 2005 Spring;3(2):A59-62. Epub 2005 Jun 15.


The Indian herb Gymnema sylvestre has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for 2000 years, most recently for the treatment of diabetes. Loose leaf Gymnema sylvestre can be prepared as a tea and will impair the ability to taste sugar by blocking sweet receptors on the tongue. This report describes a laboratory exercise easily applied to an undergraduate neuroscience course that can be used to illustrate the principles of gustatory sensation. Combined with a preceding lecture on the primary taste sensations, students experience and appreciate how the primary tastes are combined to produce overall taste. In addition, the exercises outlined here expand upon previously published demonstrations employing Gymnema sylvestre to include illustrations of the different sensory transduction mechanisms associated with each of the four or five primary taste modalities. Students compare their qualitative primary taste experiences to salt, sugar, aspartame, chocolate, and sweet-sour candy prior to and following exposure to Gymnema sylvestre. The herb's impairment of sweet sensation is profound and dramatically alters the perception of sweetness in sugar, chocolate, and candy without altering the perception of the other primary tastes. The exercise has an indelible effect on students because the herb's intense effect compels students to rely on their unique personal experiences to highlight the principles of gustatory sensation.

Keywords: gustation; sensory transduction; taste; tongue.