The taste system is the first to physically encounter ingested food and is in many ways a gatekeeper of nutrition. Unhealthy eating habits, such as the overconsumption of sugars, fats, and salt are the major causes of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Taste buds, located primarily on the surface of the tongue but also on other locations in the oral cavity such as the soft palate, contain several types of taste receptor cells that sense and transduce taste signals. The receptors and downstream signaling components for sweet, bitter, low salt, sour, and umami taste qualities are known, while those for high salt remain unidentified. Taste nerves carry taste signals from taste cells to the gustatory cortex through a relatively well defined (at least in rodents) neural pathway, that gives rise to taste guided behaviors. A poorly studied aspect of taste biology is how the oral microbiome and the mucosal immune responses they trigger affect taste signaling. Current projects in the lab aim to identify pathways regulating taste signaling and taste-microbiome interactions, using multiple approaches such as single cell and spatial RNASeq, molecular genetics, histology, behavioral studies, and calcium imaging in conditional knockout mice and cultured taste organoids.

Lab Members

Sunil Sukumaran
Assistant Professor
Oliva Ghosh
Graduate Research Assistant 
Pascaline Niyonshuti 
UCARE Fellow
Salin Raj Palayyan
Postdoctoral Fellow
Jayaram Sakthi Prasad
Graduate Research Assistant


 Selected Publications


Sunil Sukumaran and Salin Raj Palayyan. Sweet Taste Signaling: The Core Pathways and Regulatory Mechanisms. July 2022. Int J. Mol. Sci. 2022, 23(15), 8225; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms23158225 


Yumei Qin, Sunil K. Sukumaran, Robert F. Margolskee. Nkx2-2 expressing taste cells in endoderm-derived taste papillae are committed to the type III lineage. June 2021. Developmental Biology, Volume 477, September 2021, Pages 232-240. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2021.05.020


Yumei Qin, Sunil K. Sukumaran, Masafumi Jyotaki, Kevin Redding, Peihua Jiang, Robert F. Margolskee. Gli3 is a negative regulator of Tas1r3-expressing taste cells. February 2018. PLoS Genetics (14(2):e1007058. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1007058


Sunil K. Sukumaran, Brian C. Lewandowski, Alexander A. Bachmanov, Robert F. Margolskee. Whole transcriptome analysis of taste bud cells. Sci Rep. 2017 Aug 8;7(1):7595. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-07746-z


Sunil K. Sukumaran, Karen K. Yee, Shusuke Iwata, Ramana Kotha, Roberto Quezada-Calvillo, Buford L. Nichols, Sankar Mohan, B. Mario Pinto, Noriatsu Shigemura, Yuzo Ninomiya and Robert F. Margolskee (2016). Taste cell-expressed α-glucosidase enzymes contribute to gustatory responses to disaccharides. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 May 24;113(21):6035-40. doi:10.1073/pnas.1520843113

Brian C. Lewandowski, Sunil K. Sukumaran, Robert F. Margolskee and Alexander A. Bachmanov (2016). Amiloride-Insensitive Salt Taste Is Mediated by Two Populations of Type III Taste Cells with Distinct Transduction Mechanisms. J Neurosci. 2016 Feb 10;36(6):1942-53. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2947-15.2016


Karen K. Yee, Sunil K. Sukumaran, Ramana Kotha, Timothy A. Gilbertson and Robert F. Margolskee (2011). Glucose transporters and ATP-gated K+ (KATP) metabolic sensors are present in type 1 taste receptor 3 (T1r3)-expressing taste cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Mar 29;108(13):5431-6. doi:10.1073/pnas.1100495108