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Histochem Cell Biol. 2012 Jul;138(1):13-24. doi: 10.1007/s00418-012-0954-z. Epub 2012 Apr 24.

Gastrointestinal chemosensation: chemosensory cells in the alimentary tract.

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Institute of Physiology, University of Hohenheim, Garbenstrasse 30, 70599 Stuttgart, Germany.


Sensing potentially beneficial or harmful constituents in the luminal content by specialized cells in the gastrointestinal mucosa is an essential prerequisite for governing digestive processes, initiating protective responses and regulating food intake. Until recently, it was poorly understood how the gastrointestinal tract senses and responds to nutrients and non-nutrients in the diet; however, the enormous progress in unraveling the molecular machinery underlying the responsiveness of gustatory cells in the lingual taste buds to these compounds has been an important starting point for studying intestinal chemosensation. Currently, the field of nutrient sensing in the gastrointestinal tract is evolving rapidly and is benefiting from the deorphanization of previously unliganded G-protein-coupled receptors which respond to important nutrients, such as protein degradation products and free fatty acids as well as from the FACS-assisted isolation of distinct cell populations. This review focuses on mechanisms and principles underlying the chemosensory responsiveness of the alimentary tract. It describes the cell types which might potentially contribute to chemosensation within the gut: cells that can operate as specialized sensors and transducers for luminal factors and which communicate information from the gut lumen by releasing paracrine or endocrine acting messenger molecules. Furthermore, it addresses the current knowledge regarding the expression and localization of molecular elements that may be part of the chemosensory machinery which render some of the mucosal cells responsive to constituents of the luminal content, concentrating on candidate receptors and transporters for sensing nutrients.

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