The cellular mechanism for water detection in the mammalian taste system

Nat Neurosci. 2017 Jul;20(7):927-933. doi: 10.1038/nn.4575. Epub 2017 May 29.


Initiation of drinking behavior relies on both internal state and peripheral water detection. While central neural circuits regulating thirst have been well studied, it is still unclear how mammals recognize external water. Here we show that acid-sensing taste receptor cells (TRCs) that were previously suggested as the sour taste sensors also mediate taste responses to water. Genetic silencing of these TRCs abolished water-evoked responses in taste nerves. Optogenetic self-stimulation of acid-sensing TRCs in thirsty animals induced robust drinking responses toward light even without water. This behavior was only observed when animals were water-deprived but not under food- or salt-depleted conditions, indicating that the hedonic value of water-evoked responses is highly internal-state dependent. Conversely, thirsty animals lacking functional acid-sensing TRCs showed compromised discrimination between water and nonaqueous fluids. Taken together, this study revealed a function of mammalian acid-sensing TRCs that provide a cue for external water.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Calcium Channels / genetics
  • Calcium Channels / physiology
  • Chorda Tympani Nerve / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / genetics
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Taste Perception / physiology*
  • Water / physiology*


  • Calcium Channels
  • Pkd2l1 protein, mouse
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Water