Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Taste of Danger

The tongue's taste cells take part in immune surveillance

02 March 2023

Taste of Danger

A mouthful of delicious food is a true joy, but our mouths are actually quite full even when we’re not eating. Countless microbes bustle around inside, and a new study suggests that our taste cells play a role in keeping watch of these outside elements. Researchers examined gene activity in taste cells and found a very similar pattern to that of microfold cells, immune cells which carry out surveillance in the tonsils and intestine. Adding a factor that boosts microfold cell growth to mouse taste cells made them act even more alike. Mouse papillae (the little bumps on the tongue, pictured with immune cells in red and taste cells in green) developed fewer immune cells when a particular gene linked to microfold growth was silenced. Cells’ response to flavours was affected too, suggesting taste cells behave as immune cells and may influence taste in response to oral microbe activity or infection.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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