Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Physiology and Biophysics

First Advisor

Vijay Lyall


T2R receptors are the classical bitter taste receptors which detect and transduce bitter taste in a subset of taste receptor cells (TRCs). The TRPM5-dependent T2Rs are G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and are linked to G protein, gustducin to initiate an intracellular signaling cascade for the transduction of bitter tastants. Nicotine is bitter. However, at present the transduction mechanisms for the detection of nicotine in are poorly understood. Previous studies from our laboratory using TRPM5 knockout (KO) mice demonstrated that the T2R pathway is insufficient in explaining the taste perception of nicotine. TRPM5 KO mice elicited chorda tympani (CT) taste nerve responses to nicotine, albeit significantly smaller than the wild type (WT) mice and still responded to nicotine as an aversive stimulus. Following addition of mecamylamine (Mec), a non-specific blocker of neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), CT responses to nicotine were partially inhibited in both WT and TRPM5 KO mice. Mec also decreases the aversive response to nicotine in both WT and TRPM5 KO mice. These studies led to the hypothesis that both a TRPM5-independent and TRPM5-dependent pathways are responsible for the detection and transduction of the bitter taste of nicotine in TRCs. The TRPM5-independent pathway most likely utilizes the nAChRs expressed in TRCs and function as bitter taste receptors for nicotine. We have subsequently demonstrated the expression of nAChRs in a subset of TRPM5-positive TRCs. However, this mechanism is not well understood in other cell types, particularly undifferentiated epithelial cells, such as HEK293T cells. The specific aims of this project were: (i) To identify which components of T2R-dependent taste reception as well as components of nAChRs are expressed in HEK293T cells; (ii) To determine if HEK293T cells co-express these components; (iii) To identify if exposure to nicotine modulates the expression of T2R and nAChR dependent components in HEK293T cells; (iv) To determine if TRCs express functional nAChR ion channels; and (v) To determine if nAChRs are involved in the release of neuropeptides, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in HEK293T cells. The data obtained in HEK293T cells was compared with parallel studies on adult cultured human fungiform taste cells (HBO) done independently by Dr. Jie Qian, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Vijay Lyall’s lab. The results of combined studies on HBO and HEK293T cells indicates that TRPM5-positive cells also co-express ionotropic nAChRs, comprising a and β subunits. The nAChRs are capable of forming ion pores and when stimulated by nicotine and create a parallel TRPM5-independent pathway for the detection of nicotine. Using molecular and immunocytochemical techniques, our results demonstrate that mRNAs and proteins for bitter taste receptors and downstream intracellular signaling components as well as subunits necessary for the formation of nAChRs are expressed in HBO and HEK293T cells. Results demonstrated that TRPM5-positive HEK293T cells co-expressed nAChR subunits throughout the entire population. Nicotine increased the influx of Ca2+ in a dose dependent manner, which was somewhat reduced by the addition of TRPM5 blocker, triphenylphosphine oxide (TPPO). Both mRNA and protein expression were altered in a biphasic pattern with a maximum increased observed at 0.5 µM nicotine with a decrease in expression at higher concentrations. The synthesis of neurotrophic factor BDNF, required for maturation of taste bud cells and their innervating nerves, increased in HEK293T cells exposed to nicotine, however, nicotine did not trigger the release of BDNF. These results were then compared and contrasted with HBO cells to better understand the comparative effects of nicotine on both undifferentiated and differentiated cells. The data on HBO cells is presented in the Appendix.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission