How do taste cells lacking synapses mediate neurotransmission? CALHM1, a voltage-gated ATP channel

Bioessays. 2013 Dec;35(12):1111-8. doi: 10.1002/bies.201300077. Epub 2013 Sep 17.


CALHM1 was recently demonstrated to be a voltage-gated ATP-permeable ion channel and to serve as a bona fide conduit for ATP release from sweet-, umami-, and bitter-sensing type II taste cells. Calhm1 is expressed in taste buds exclusively in type II cells and its product has structural and functional similarities with connexins and pannexins, two families of channel protein candidates for ATP release by type II cells. Calhm1 knockout in mice leads to loss of perception of sweet, umami, and bitter compounds and to impaired gustatory nerve responses to these tastants. These new studies validate the concept of ATP as the primary neurotransmitter from type II cells to gustatory neurons. Furthermore, they identify voltage-gated ATP release through CALHM1 as an essential molecular mechanism of ATP release in taste buds. We discuss these new findings, as well as unresolved issues in peripheral taste signaling that we hope will stimulate future research.

Keywords: ATP; TRPM5; calcium; connexin; pannexin; sensory; voltage-gated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium Channels / genetics
  • Calcium Channels / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission / genetics
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Taste Buds / metabolism


  • CALHM1 protein, human
  • Calcium Channels
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Calcium