Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

, Volume 72, Issue 2, pp 217–236 | Cite as

Taste receptors in innate immunity

  • Robert J. Lee
  • Noam A. Cohen


Taste receptors were first identified on the tongue, where they initiate a signaling pathway that communicates information to the brain about the nutrient content or potential toxicity of ingested foods. However, recent research has shown that taste receptors are also expressed in a myriad of other tissues, from the airway and gastrointestinal epithelia to the pancreas and brain. The functions of many of these extraoral taste receptors remain unknown, but emerging evidence suggests that bitter and sweet taste receptors in the airway are important sentinels of innate immunity. This review discusses taste receptor signaling, focusing on the G-protein–coupled receptors that detect bitter, sweet, and savory tastes, followed by an overview of extraoral taste receptors and in-depth discussion of studies demonstrating the roles of taste receptors in airway innate immunity. Future research on extraoral taste receptors has significant potential for identification of novel immune mechanisms and insights into host-pathogen interactions.


Airway physiology Chronic rhinosinusitis Epithelial biology Host-pathogen interactions Respiratory infection Interkingdom signaling 





Acyl-homoserine lactone


Antimicrobial peptide


Airway surface liquid


Adenosine trisphophate


N-butyryl-L-homoserine lactone


N-3-oxo-dodecanoyl-L-homoserine lactone


Calcium homeostasis modulator isoform 1


Cyclic adenosine monophosphate


Calcitonin gene-related peptide


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease


Chronic rhinosinusitis


Cerebrospinal fluid


Epithelial sodium channel


Endoplasmic reticulum


G-protein–coupled receptor


Inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate


Inositol trisphosphate receptor isoform 3


Nitric oxide


Nitric oxide synthase




cAMP-dependent protein kinase A


cGMP-dependent protein kinase G


Phospholipase C isoform β2




Phenylthiocarbamide, also known as phenylthiourea


Reactive nitrogen species


Reactive oxygen species


Solitary chemosensory cell


Taste receptor family 1 protein isoform


Taste receptor family 2 protein isoform


Taste receptor family 1 gene


Taste receptor family 2 gene


Toll-like receptor


Transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily M isoform



Some of the research described in this review was supported by a grant from the Flight Attendants Medical Research Institute (082478) and a philanthropic contribution from the RLG Foundation Inc., both to N.A.C.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel (outside the USA) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Perelman School of MedicineUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center Surgical ServicesPhiladelphiaUSA

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