Background The perception of sour taste in humans is incompletely understood at the receptor cell level. We report here on two patients with an acquired sour ageusia. Each patient was unresponsive to sour stimuli, but both showed normal responses to bitter, sweet, and salty stimuli. Methods and Findings Lingual fungiform papillae, containing taste cells, were obtained by biopsy from the two patients, and from three sour-normal individuals, and analyzed by RT-PCR. The following transcripts were undetectable in the patients, even after 50 cycles of amplification, but readily detectable in the sour-normal subjects: acid sensing ion channels (ASICs) 1a, 1β, 2a, 2b, and 3; and polycystic kidney disease (PKD) channels PKD1L3 and PKD2L1. Patients and sour-normals expressed the taste-related phospholipase C-β2, the δ-subunit of epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) and the bitter receptor T2R14, as well as β-actin. Genomic analysis of one patient, using buccal tissue, did not show absence of the genes for ASIC1a and PKD2L1. Immunohistochemistry of fungiform papillae from sour-normal subjects revealed labeling of taste bud cells by antibodies to ASICs 1a and 1β, PKD2L1, phospholipase C-β2, and δ-ENaC. An antibody to PKD1L3 labeled tissue outside taste bud cells. Conclusions These data suggest a role for ASICs and PKDs in human sour perception. This is the first report of sour ageusia in humans, and the very existence of such individuals (“natural knockouts”) suggests a cell lineage for sour that is independent of the other taste modalities.
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