Associate Professor John Boughter and Assistant Professor Max Fletcher of UTHSC Receive $418,000 Grant for Taste Sensory Research

Drs. John Boughter and Max Fletcher Red
Drs. John Boughter (left) and Max Fletcher have received a $418,000 grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

How are we able to distinguish the difference between what is sweet, bitter, salty or sour? John Boughter, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a grant totaling $418,000 from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, part of the National Institutes of Health, to study this question. The other principal investigator on this grant is Max Fletcher, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at UTHSC.

The award, which will be distributed over two years, will support a project titled, “Taste Responses in Defined Cell Types in Gustatory Cortex.”

Taste quality plays a crucial role when evaluating conditions such as obesity, diabetes, anorexia, hypertension and coronary artery disease. In this research, the focus will be on how taste quality is encoded in the gustatory cortex, an important area of the brain involved in ingestive decision making. The researchers use state-of-the-art imaging techniques to visualize the response of individual neurons to taste stimuli of different qualities.

“We will try to understand whether or not single cells respond to just one or multiple tastants,” said Dr. Boughter. “The location of these neurons in different cortical cell layers will be considered, and we will investigate taste responses in different cell types as well. Together, we anticipate that these approaches will allow for a new understanding of how the sense of taste is organized in the brain.”

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders is dedicated to conducting research surrounding the processes of sight, sound, taste, balance and speech. For more information, visit www.nidcd.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.