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.

Sunil Sukumaran Assistant Professor of Molecular Genetics


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


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 

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


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


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


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


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