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Journal Article

Radiation and Aging Effect on Taste Structure and Function

Alan D. Conger and Marsha A. Wells
Radiation Research
Vol. 37, No. 1 (Jan., 1969), pp. 31-49
DOI: 10.2307/3572749
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3572749
Page Count: 19
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Radiation and Aging Effect on Taste Structure and Function
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Abstract

The quantitative effects of radiation and age on taste structure (number of taste buds and number of taste cells per bud) in mice and on taste acuity in therapeutically irradiated humans have been studied. After localized head irradiation, both number of buds and number of cells per bud fall rapidly to a minimum about 9 days later, with recovery to normal by about day 20; the 50% exposure is about 1.5 kR of x-rays. Taste-cell lifetime in the bud is brief, only 10 1/2 days. In mice, aging from young adulthood to extreme old age causes about a 30% decrease in number of buds. Humans treated with fractionated therapeutic irradiation (about 6 kR total exposure) to the head and neck suffer a 75 to 99% decrease in their taste acuity to sugar, acid, and quinine. This loss develops during irradiation (about 6 weeks); preirradiation acuity is recovered within 60 to 100 days after irradiation ends. These experiments suggest that radiation has caused direct damage to the nerves, which expresses itself within 9 days after exposures of 1 to 2 kR. Against dose, the number of buds is drastically reduced before the number of cells per bud declines very much. A large part of the radiation-induced bud loss is not explicable on the basis of simple cell killing and cellular depletion. Similar rapid bud loss is seen after surgical transection of the nerves to the tongue; to be maintained, taste buds require connection to a normally functional nerve. This suggests that radiation has impaired the taste-bud maintenance (trophic) function of the nerve.

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