Sensing Senses: Optical Biosensors to Study Gustation

Sensors (Basel). 2020 Mar 25;20(7):1811. doi: 10.3390/s20071811.


The five basic taste modalities, sweet, bitter, umami, salty and sour induce changes of Ca2+ levels, pH and/or membrane potential in taste cells of the tongue and/or in neurons that convey and decode gustatory signals to the brain. Optical biosensors, which can be either synthetic dyes or genetically encoded proteins whose fluorescence spectra depend on levels of Ca2+, pH or membrane potential, have been used in primary cells/tissues or in recombinant systems to study taste-related intra- and intercellular signaling mechanisms or to discover new ligands. Taste-evoked responses were measured by microscopy achieving high spatial and temporal resolution, while plate readers were employed for higher throughput screening. Here, these approaches making use of fluorescent optical biosensors to investigate specific taste-related questions or to screen new agonists/antagonists for the different taste modalities were reviewed systematically. Furthermore, in the context of recent developments in genetically encoded sensors, 3D cultures and imaging technologies, we propose new feasible approaches for studying taste physiology and for compound screening.

Keywords: calcium; gustation; imaging; optical biosensors; tastants; taste signaling.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biosensing Techniques*
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Calcium Signaling / genetics
  • Humans
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Optics and Photonics / trends*
  • Taste / genetics*
  • Tongue / metabolism
  • Tongue / ultrastructure


  • Calcium