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A new study sheds light on how the tongue restores its ability to taste following surgery

(December 9 , 2002) - Bethesda, MD Surgery and a wide range of cancer treatments on the tongue can be devastating for both its short- and long- term considerations. A recent study conducted at Duke University, for example, found that patients who experience taste and smell loss because of the disease and its treatments are at high risk for weight loss and nutritional deficits that can compromise their overall treatment success. Even among patients who are eating the same volume of calories, those with taste and smell distortions may avoid foods with high nutritional value, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Eliminating such nutritious foods can further depress immune function.

Why We Lose Taste

The causes of taste loss vary. Chemotherapy drugs are known to alter taste and smell by blunting the normal turnover rate of taste and smell receptors on the tongue and in the nasal passages. Radiation treatments can also damage taste and smell receptors, giving food a metallic flavor. Tumors themselves also secrete a protein that suppresses appetite in some patients. Often it is the need to perform surgery on the tongue itself.

Key to our ability to taste are the taste receptor cells within the mushroom-shaped protrustions on the anterior tongue, which are innervated by the chorda tympani (CT) nerve. One function of this nerve, in addition to conduction of neural impulses to the central nervous system, is to maintain the structural and functional fitness of associated taste receptor cells.

When the CT is unilaterally cut, as may be required by surgery, taste buds degenerate and gustatory function is abolished on that side. However, taste receptor cells eventually reappear following reinnervation, or resupply of the nerve, and normal taste function is restored. Previous research demonstrated that taste receptor cells that regenerate under dietary sodium restriction find their function dramatically different from the normal pos
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Contact: Donna Krupa
djkrupa@aol.com
703-527-7357
American Physiological Society
17-Dec-2002


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