Taste receptors, first identified on the tongue, are best known for their role in guiding our dietary preferences. The expression of taste receptors for umami, sweet, and bitter have been demonstrated in tissues outside of the oral cavity, including in the airway, brain, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive organs. The extra-oral taste receptor chemosensory pathways and the endogenous taste receptor ligands are generally unknown, but there is increasing data suggesting that taste receptors are involved in regulating some aspects of innate immunity, and may potentially control the composition of the nasal microbiome in healthy individuals or patients with upper respiratory diseases like chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS). For this reason, taste receptors may serve as potential therapeutic targets, providing alternatives to conventional antibiotics. This review focuses on the physiology of sweet (T1R) and bitter (T2R) taste receptors in the airway and their activation by secreted bacterial products. There is particular focus on T2R38 in sinonasal ciliated cells, as well as the sweet and bitter receptors found on specialized sinonasal solitary chemosensory cells. Additionally, this review explores the impact of genetic variations in these receptors on the differential susceptibility of patients to upper airway infections, such as CRS.
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