"We have an important new tool to help discover molecules that can enhance or block different kinds of tastes," explains principle investigator Nancy Rawson, PhD, a cellular biologist. "In addition, the success of this technique may provide hope for people who have lost their sense of taste due to radiation therapy or tissue damage, who typically lose weight and become malnourished. This system gives us a way to test for drugs that can promote recovery."
Understanding of the process of taste cell differentiation, growth and turnover has been hampered by the inability of researchers to keep taste cells alive outside the body in controlled laboratory conditions.
To address this long-standing problem, the researchers utilized a novel approach. Instead of starting with mature taste cells, they obtained basal cells from rat taste buds and placed these cells in a tissue culture system containing nutrients and growth factors. In this environment, the basal cells divided and differentiated into functional taste cells.
The new cells, which were kept alive for up to two months, were similar to mature taste cells in several key respects. A variety of methods were used to show that the cultured cells contain unique marker proteins characteristic of mature functioning taste receptor cells. In addition, functional assays revealed that the cultured cells responded to either bitter or sweet taste stimuli with increases of intracellular calcium, another property characteristic of mature taste cells.
By using the cultured taste cells, researchers now have more precise control over the cell's surrounding environment, as well as better access to subcellular mechanisms, allowing them to ask certain questions that could not previously be addressed.
MEDICA.de; Source: Monell Chemical Senses Center