Dr. McCluskey receives top honor for young taste researchers

Dr. Lynnette P. McCluskey, a Medical College of Georgia neuroscientist using taste buds as a model for studying nerve regeneration, is the 2006 recipient of the country's top honor for young taste researchers.

Dr. McCluskey received the Ajinomoto Award for Young Investigators in Gustation during the 28th annual meeting of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences April 26-30 in Sarasota.

She was nominated by former mentor Dr. David Hill, neurobiologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who received the 1996 gustation award. Dr. McCluskey studied with Dr. Hill while earning her PH.D. in Virginia.

She got her first taste of gustation research in the late 1980s as an undergraduate at Florida State University. There another mentor, Dr. James C. Smith, a now-retired senior investigator, was the first to interest her in the complex system connecting thousands of taste buds on the tongue and palate with the brain.

"Receptor cells on your tongue are part epithelial cells: they turn over and they renew, and they are partly like neural cells, so they can fire action potentials and tell your brain about what is on your tongue," she says.

One of the most interesting and fortunate things about the system is that when communication with the brain is severed, nerves regenerate. "You can section a nerve and the taste buds go away but the whole thing regenerates and becomes functional again. I was really fascinated by the functional changes that you can see in this system even in an adult."

She hopes her studies of a system that successfully regenerates in the face of constant onslaught from the likes of food, teeth, bacteria and viruses will one day help nerves that are less successful at repair, such as those severed in a spinal cord injury.

"It's the flip side to the approach of looking at a spinal cord injury in an animal and seeing if you can reverse that. We chose to look at it a different way and sa

Contact: Toni Baker
Medical College of Georgia

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