Our taste cells regenerate about every 10 days, much like skin cells, scientists say...
Our taste cells regenerate about every 10 days, much like skin cells, scientists say.
A person who loses their hearing may never get it back. It is also likely that they won’t get back any brain cells they may have burned out.
However if they happen to burn their tongue those cells will regrow and they will regain their normal sense of taste within days, researchers said.
“Brain cells generally don’t regenerate, which is why diseases such as Alzheimer’s are so devastating,” said University of Virginia neuroscientist David Hill.
“However, some hope for understanding the way neurons may regenerate may come from studies of the olfactory system. Olfactory receptor neurons are constantly dying and being replaced, which can give researchers new understanding of how these neurons are able to regenerate.
“What we learn from the taste system can be applied broadly to our understanding of neurology,” Hill said.
Hill operates one of only a handful of laboratories worldwide studying the development of the taste system – the least studied of the senses, most likely because of how much more we rely on the other sensory systems in everyday life.
By contrast, vision and hearing are studied much more commonly and thoroughly in hundreds of labs.
Hill said there are no devastating diseases directly associated with taste.
“Some medicines can compromise the sense of taste, but no life-changing diseases occur with this sense in the way that there are so many diseases associated with the brain, with hearing, sight and even the sense of touch,” he said.
Using mice as models, Hill is looking at how changes can occur in neurodevelopment in the womb, depending on the diet of the mother during pregnancy.
The taste system provides clues as to how the brain must continually process new information from new cells, and how modifications can ultimately become locked in once development slows and eventually stops in adulthood.
“One of our questions is, ‘If taste cells are constantly turning over, how does the nervous system keep reliable information coming to the brain when the reception system is always changing?’ We want to understand how the wiring changes in early development and adulthood,” Hill said.
His findings, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, demonstrate the importance of diet during pre-natal development.
He has shown that the taste system is highly malleable, and taste preferences and aversions can be modified prior to birth, just as preferences can change throughout life based on changing diets.
“The central circuits that drive taste apparently have a great deal of plasticity,” Hill said, meaning early diets, including the mother’s diet while pregnant, could have a large effect on future dietary choices of offspring.