Taste and smell are fundamental sensory systems essential in nutrition and food selection, for the hedonic and sensory experience of food, for efficient metabolism, and, in general, for the maintenance of a good quality of life. The gustatory and olfactory systems demonstrate a diversity of transduction mechanisms, and during the last decade, considerable progress has been made toward our understanding of the basic mechanisms of taste and smell. Understanding normal chemosensory function helps clarify the molecular events that underlie taste and smell disorders. At least 2,000,000 Americans suffer from chemosensory disorders - a number that is likely to grow as the aging segment of the population increases. Smell disorders are more frequent than taste disturbances, due to the vulnerability and anatomical distinctiveness of the olfactory system, and because a decline in olfactory function is part of the normal aging process. Common gustatory and olfactory complaints are due to a number of medications, to upper respiratory infections, to nasal and paranasal sinus diseases, and to damage to peripheral nerves supplying taste and smell. Most chemosensory complaints have an identifiable cause. Although diagnosis of taste and smell disorders has improved considerably over the last two decades, treatment of these disorders is still limited to conditions with discernible and reversible causes. Future research is needed for a better understanding of chemosensory mechanisms, establishing improved diagnostic procedures, and disseminating knowledge on chemosensory disorders among practitioners and the general public.
- Signal transduction
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