While many studies have shown how the smell of something can impact its taste perception or vice versa, the traditional theory was that olfaction and taste were independent sensory systems. Now, one Monell Chemical Senses Center study is refuting this idea and leading to a fuller understanding of our senses.
In a study published in the Chemical Senses journal, Mehmet Hakan Ozdener, Ph.D., a cell biologist at Monell, and a team of researchers set out to investigate if taste and smell were independent sensory systems that did not interact until their respective information reached the brain. Utilizing a method developed by Monell to maintain living human taste cells in culture, the researchers used genetic and biochemical methods to probe the taste cell cultures. Upon examination, the researchers found that human taste cells contain many key molecules known to be present in olfactory receptors. Following this discovery, the team used a method known as calcium imaging to show that cultured taste cells respond to odor molecules, similar to olfactory receptor cells.
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While providing insight into the nature of smell and taste interaction, the finding might also provide a way of understanding how the olfactory system detects odors. For the vast majority of the 400 different types of functional human olfactory receptors, scientists still don't know which molecules activate them. Since the cultured taste cells respond to odor, they can potentially be screened to help identity which molecules bind to what specific human olfactory receptor.
"Our research may help explain how odor molecules modulate taste perception," said Ozdener. "This may lead to the development of odor-based taste modifiers that can help combat the excess salt, sugar, and fat intake associated with diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes."