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Taste dysfunction in multiple sclerosis


Empirical studies of taste function in multiple sclerosis (MS) are rare. Moreover, a detailed assessment of whether quantitative measures of taste function correlate with the punctate and patchy myelin-related lesions found throughout the CNS of MS patients has not been made. We administered a 96-trial test of sweet (sucrose), sour (citric acid), bitter (caffeine) and salty (NaCl) taste perception to the left and right anterior (CN VII) and posterior (CN IX) tongue regions of 73 MS patients and 73 matched controls. The number and volume of lesions were assessed using quantitative MRI in 52 brain regions of 63 of the MS patients. Taste identification scores were significantly lower in the MS patients for sucrose (p = 0.0002), citric acid (p = 0.0001), caffeine (p = 0.0372) and NaCl (p = 0.0004) and were present in both anterior and posterior tongue regions. The percent of MS patients with identification scores falling below the 5th percentile of controls was 15.07 % for caffeine, 21.9 % for citric acid, 24.66 % for sucrose, and 31.50 % for NaCl. Such scores were inversely correlated with lesion volumes in the temporal, medial frontal, and superior frontal lobes, and with the number of lesions in the left and right superior frontal lobes, right anterior cingulate gyrus, and left parietal operculum. Regardless of the subject group, women outperformed men on the taste measures. These findings indicate that a sizable number of MS patients exhibit taste deficits that are associated with MS-related lesions throughout the brain.

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We are indebted to the subjects who participated in this study. We thank Nancy A. Lee, M.D., Andre S. Souza, M.D., and Hussam Tallab, M.D., for their contributions to this work, and Greg Smutzer, Ph.D., for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Special thanks goes out to Inna Chung, who played a significant role in preparing the manuscript for journal submission. This research was supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health Grants RO1 DC 02974 (Doty), R01 NS 37172 (Doty), and R01 NS070906 (Pham).

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Correspondence to Richard L. Doty.

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Doty, R.L., Tourbier, I.A., Pham, D.L. et al. Taste dysfunction in multiple sclerosis. J Neurol 263, 677–688 (2016).

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  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Taste
  • Chemosensory transduction
  • Taste disorders
  • Sex differences