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13.2B: Reception and Transduction

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    7712
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    Odorants and tastants produce signal molecules received by receptors, which are then processed by the brain to identify smells and tastes.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Describe the process by which tastes and odors are sensed

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • Odorants are received by receptors in the nose, which send signals to the olfactory bulb of the brain to create an appropriate response; humans have about 12 million receptors.
    • Taste results when molecules are dissolved in fluid and reach the gustatory receptors on the tongue; the signals are sent to the brain to determine which flavor (bitter, sour, sweet, salty, umami ) is being consumed.
    • Taste buds are found on the tongue and contain clusters of gustatory receptors on bumps called papillae; fungiform papillae each contain one to eight taste buds; they also have receptors for pressure and temperature.
    • The ability to smell and taste declines with age.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • tastant: any substance that stimulates the sense of taste
    • papilla: a nipple-like anatomical structure
    • odorant: any substance that has a distinctive smell, especially one added to something (such as household gas) for safety purposes

    Reception and Transduction

    Odorants (odor molecules) enter the nose and dissolve in the olfactory epithelium, the mucosa at the back of the nasal cavity. The olfactory epithelium is a collection of specialized olfactory receptors in the back of the nasal cavity that spans an area about 5 cm2 in humans. Recall that sensory cells are neurons. An olfactory receptor, which is a dendrite of a specialized neuron, responds when it binds certain molecules inhaled from the environment by sending impulses directly to the olfactory bulb of the brain. Humans have about 12 million olfactory receptors distributed among hundreds of different receptor types that respond to different odors. Twelve million seems like a large number of receptors, but compare that to other animals: rabbits have about 100 million, most dogs have about 1 billion, and bloodhounds (dogs selectively bred for their sense of smell) have about 4 billion.

    image

     

    Human olfactory system: In the human olfactory system, (a) bipolar olfactory neurons extend from (b) the olfactory epithelium, where olfactory receptors are located, to the olfactory bulb.

     

    Olfactory neurons are bipolar neurons (neurons with two processes from the cell body). Each neuron has a single dendrite buried in the olfactory epithelium; extending from this dendrite are 5 to 20 receptor-laden, hair-like cilia that trap odorant molecules. The sensory receptors on the cilia are proteins. It is the variations in their amino acid chains that make the receptors sensitive to different odorants. Each olfactory sensory neuron has only one type of receptor on its cilia. The receptors are specialized to detect specific odorants, so the bipolar neurons themselves are specialized. When an odorant binds with a receptor that recognizes it, the sensory neuron associated with the receptor is stimulated. Olfactory stimulation is the only sensory information that directly reaches the cerebral cortex, whereas other sensations are relayed through the thalamus.

    Taste and Smell

    Detecting a taste (gustation) is fairly similar to detecting an odor (olfaction), given that both taste and smell rely on chemical receptors being stimulated by certain molecules. The primary organ of taste is the taste bud. A taste bud is a cluster of gustatory receptors (taste cells) that are located within the bumps on the tongue called papillae (singular: papilla). There are several structurally-distinct papillae. Filiform papillae, which are located across the tongue, are tactile, providing friction that helps the tongue move substances; they contain no taste cells. In contrast, fungiform papillae, which are located mainly on the anterior two-thirds of the tongue, each contain one to eight taste buds; they also have receptors for pressure and temperature. The large circumvallate papillae contain up to 100 taste buds and form a V near the posterior margin of the tongue.

    image

     

    Taste buds: (a) Foliate, circumvallate, and fungiform papillae are located on different regions of the tongue. (b) Foliate papillae are prominent protrusions on this light micrograph.

     

    In humans, there are five primary tastes; each taste has only one corresponding type of receptor. Thus, like olfaction, each receptor is specific to its stimulus ( tastant ). Transduction of the five tastes happens through different mechanisms that reflect the molecular composition of the tastant. A salty tastant (containing NaCl) provides the sodium ions (Na+) that enter the taste neurons, exciting them directly. Sour tastants are acids which belong to the thermoreceptor protein family. Binding of an acid or other sour-tasting molecule triggers a change in the ion channel which increases hydrogen ion (H+) concentrations in the taste neurons; thus, depolarizing them. Sweet, bitter, and umami tastants require a G-protein-coupled receptor. These tastants bind to their respective receptors, thereby exciting the specialized neurons associated with them.

    Both tasting abilities and sense of smell change with age. In humans, the senses decline dramatically by age 50 and continue to decline. A child may find a food to be too spicy, whereas an elderly person may find the same food to be bland and unappetizing.

     

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