Taste buds (sensory structures embedded in oral epithelium) show a remarkable diversity of transmitters synthesized and secreted locally. The known transmitters accumulate in a cell type selective manner, with 5-HT and noradrenaline being limited to presynaptic cells, GABA being synthesized in both presynaptic and glial-like cells, and acetylcholine and ATP used for signalling by receptor cells. Each of these transmitters participates in local negative or positive feedback circuits that target particular cell types. Overall, the role of ATP is the best elucidated. ATP serves as a principal afferent transmitter, and also is the key trigger for autocrine positive feedback and paracrine circuits that result in potentiation (via adenosine) or inhibition (via GABA or 5-HT). While many of the cellular receptors and mechanisms for these circuits are known, their impact on sensory detection and perception remains to be elaborated in most instances. This brief review examines what is known, and some of the open questions and controversies surrounding the transmitters and circuits of the taste periphery.
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