Visualizing chemosensory connectivity: getting a “GRASP” on taste synapses in the tongue and gut

2019 Seed Grant
Lindsey Macpherson, Ph.D.
University of Texas at San Antonio

The specialized chemosensory cells within the tongue and gut relay appetitive and aversive signals to the brain via peripheral ganglion neurons. Taste dysfunction is common in adults (17%) and even more prevalent in the aging population. Loss of taste can result in serious nutritional imbalance, weight loss, and significant deterioration of quality-of-life, yet we lack a fundamental understanding of how taste information is conveyed to the brain for processing, making the diagnosis and treatment of taste dysfunction difficult. Our first goal is to develop tools to visualize the connections between taste receptor cells and the neurons that innervate them. Using these tools, I plan to directly assess the specificity of taste synapses, and genetically identify subsets of gustatory neurons that relay sweet, bitter, or sour taste signals. Because of the similarities between taste receptor cells and chemosensory cells in the gut, I plan to expand these studies in the future to probe the connectivity of gut chemosensory circuits, contributing molecular insights to the emerging field of gut-brain communication.

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