Text Size: a  |   a 

MS Patients Lack of Ability to Taste Linked to Severity of Brain Lesions

February 10, 2016

Taste deficits are already known as a common occurrence for MS patients, and it may be known now where they originate. An article titled “Taste dysfunction in multiple sclerosis” showed that this deficit correlates directly with the severity of brain lesions.

Sensory problems are a common thing with MS patients, as a large number of patients report some feeling of numbness as well as vision problems. Symptoms related to the gustatory system, namely taste deficits, are less well understood or studied, and little is known regarding the correlation between taste dysfunction and myelin damage. Previous research into taste dysfunction put its prevalence between 5 percent and 20 percent of people. The patient’s inability to differentiate tastes could also be a result of olfactory dysfunction.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Smell and Taste Center sought to assess the prevalence of taste dysfunction in MS patients compared to healthy controls, and possibly correlate it with the disease’s myelin-related brain lesions. The study enrolled 73 people with MS and 73 healthy controls, each undergoing a standard, 96-trial test of four tastes — sweet (sucrose), sour (citric acid), bitter (caffeine), and salty (sodium chloride) — administered to different tongue regions. The number and size of lesions were assessed through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of 52 MS-affected brain regions.

According to the results, people with MS were significantly affected in their ability to identify tastes, more than previously reported. Their taste identification scores, in fact, were noticeably lower for all tested tastes, and especially with sweet and salty. Significant portions of MS patients had taste scores falling below the 5th percentile of controls — with 15.07 percent below the 5th percentile for caffeine, 21.9 percent for citric acid, 24.66 percent for sucrose, and 31.50 percent for sodium chloride. Importantly, researchers also found that taste scores were inversely proportional to the amount and volume of lesions detected by MRI in different brain regions.