Effects of chemotherapy on gene expression of lingual taste receptors in patients with head and neck cancer

Laryngoscope. 2016 Mar;126(3):E103-9. doi: 10.1002/lary.25679. Epub 2015 Sep 30.


Objectives/hypothesis: We aimed to test the hypothesis that chemotherapy changes the gene expression of taste receptors in the tongue to induce dysgeusia in patients with head and neck cancer.

Study design: Prospective observation study.

Methods: We enrolled 21 patients who received chemoradiotherapy and five patients who underwent radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. The messenger RNA (mRNA) levels of the taste receptor subunits T1R1, T1R2, T1R3, and T2R5 were measured in lingual mucosa scrapings obtained with a small spatula. The perception thresholds of umami, sweet, and bitter tastes were assessed by the whole mouth gustatory test.

Results: In four patients with severe stomatitis induced by chemoradiotherapy, the mRNA levels of T1R1, T1R2, T1R3, and T2R5 in the lingual mucosa were significantly decreased. However, in 17 patients with mild/moderate stomatitis, the mRNA levels of T1R3 were significantly and transiently decreased, whereas those of T1R1 and T1R2 remained unchanged and those of T2R5 mRNA were significantly and transiently increased after chemotherapy. There was a significant negative correlation between the perception thresholds of umami or sweet tastes and lingual mRNA levels of T1R3 in patients with mild/moderate stomatitis after chemotherapy. Although the perception threshold of bitter taste remained unchanged, lingual mRNA levels of T2R5 were significantly increased in patients who complained of phantogeusia after chemotherapy.

Conclusion: Chemotherapy specifically changed the gene expression of T1R3 and T2R5 in head and neck cancer patients with mild/moderate stomatitis, resulting in both dysgeusia of umami and sweet tastes as well as phantogeusia.

Level of evidence: 4. Laryngoscope, 126:E103-E109, 2016.

Keywords: Dysgeusia; head and neck cancer; taste receptors.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Chemoradiotherapy / adverse effects*
  • Chemoradiotherapy / methods
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dysgeusia / etiology
  • Dysgeusia / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / drug effects*
  • Gene Expression / radiation effects
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Taste Buds / drug effects
  • Tongue / drug effects
  • Tongue / radiation effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • taste receptors, type 1