NHE3 co-transporter (red) found on apical region of taste bud cells


Isolated taste bud (circumvallate papillae)


Human olfactory receptor cell


Convergence of P2 odorant receptor axons


Chemical Senses Research Group

TASTE and SMELL, two of the five special senses, have unique properties that make them important research models for modern physiologists and molecular biologists. Chemosensory systems (taste and smell) were the first of the senses to evolve, and their receptor cells are devoted to detecting chemicals in the internal and external environment. Since most cells communicate using chemical signals, much can be learned from the study of the physiology of chemosensory cells. The VCU Department of Physiology and Biophysics has research teams devoted to the study of the chemosensory systems. Utilizing a wide variety of methods, the group has made and continues to make significant strides in the understanding of chemoreception mechanisms.

Drs. Vijay Lyall and John A. DeSimone (Professor Emeritus)

Drs. Vijay Lyall and John A. DeSimone are currently studying the cellular basis of the salty and sour modalities of taste. The salty sensation is evoked principally by sodium salts while acids (especially those found abundantly in foods) are potent sour taste stimuli. Studies currently underway include characterization of cellular processes mediating sodium and acid taste reception and inolve a synthesis of systems, cellular, and molecular approaches. A molecular approach to the study of chemoreception is directed by Dr. Anna Vinnikova with the assistance of Dr. Shirley K. DeSimone. They use pharmacological probes that complement the systems and cellular studies and help to provide a better understanding of the cellular mechanisms involved in sensory transduction and adaptation. Molecular biological and immunocytochemical approaches are utilized to confirm the presence and involvement of these molecules in transduction and adaptation.

Dr. Richard M. Costanzo

Dr. Richard M. Costanzo and his research group focuses on the unique capacity of the olfactory system to undergo neurogenesis and replace degenerating neurons. They have shown that newly replaced olfactory neurons are capable of reestablishing functional connections with their target cells and to “rewire the brain.” Using anatomical, molecular, electrophysiological and behavioral techniques, Dr. Costanzo’s group is investigating the survival characteristics of the olfactory stem cells when transplanted into different regions of the brain.