ACTON, Australia, April 22 (UPI) -- Researchers have developed a special microscope camera, and for the first time captured a cell performing the tasting sensation process in real time.
An international team of scientists honed the special camera a single tongue cell from the mouse and watched as it was stimulated by different tastes.
Researchers have previously explored the connections between tongue and brain, and have documented more than 2,000 different taste buds capable of differentiating between five tastes -- salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami.
But each taste bud is made up of multiple cells. Understanding the complex relationship between cell clusters and taste buds has proven difficult.
"With this new imaging tool we have shown that each taste bud contains taste cells for different tastes," explained Seok-Hyun Yun, a professor at Harvard Medical School.
Seeing the tasting process up close and personal for the first time, researchers were able see that tongue cells process molecules in neighboring blood vessels, as well as those making surface contact.
The newly developed microscopic camera uses the power of infrared light to illuminate tongue cells. The technology, called intravital multiphoton microscopy, causes different parts of the cell to become fluorescent, and is capable of detailing blood vessels some 240 microns beneath the cell surface.
Researchers hope eventually to pair the technology with brain imaging, in order to see the full system working in real time.
"Until we can simultaneously capture both the neurological and physiological events, we can't fully unravel the logic behind taste," Lee said.
The new research was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.