Medical Discovery NewsBridging the World of Medical Discovery and You

Recent Episodes

Why We Don't Bite Our Tongues


If you're munching on a snack during this episode, ponder why you rarely bite your tongue when you eat. We should know more about this intricate mechanism, but it's something we're slowly uncovering.

Two types of neurons work together to coordinate muscle movements of the jaw and tongue, the motoneurons which in turn are controlled by the premotor neurons. But exactly which premotor neurons connect to which motoneurons and the precise muscles have remained a mystery.

To find out, scientists used an engineered, disabled rabies virus. They chose this virus because of its ability to migrate up peripheral neurons toward the central nervous system. By adding a fluorescent green or red tag to the virus, they could track it on its journey through the circuitry that controls chewing.

Researchers injected the virus into two muscles, the genioglossus muscle that controls tongue protrusion and the masseter muscle involved in jaw closing. They saw that one group of premotor neurons connect to both muscle groups, while another set of premotor neurons regulate just the opposite movements, tongue retraction and jaw opening. This means multiple muscle groups, the jaw and tongue, are controlled by the same set of premotor neurons.

It's an elegantly simple system designed so the body can not automatically close the jaw without also retracting the tongue. Since there are at least ten other muscles active while we chew, drink, and speak, this revelation only touches on the mechanism of the movements of our mouth. We'll need far more studies to map all the neurons involved in the complex orchestrated motions necessary for what are seemingly simple and routine tasks.


Medicine is constantly advancing – that is a great thing about life in the 21st century. But it doesn’t just happen. Dedicated biomedical scientists are making discoveries that translate into those new medical advances.

Biomedical science is broad, encompassing everything from social science to microbiology, biochemistry, epidemiology, to structural biology and bioinformatics to name just a few areas. And, it can involve basic fundamental biology, the use of AI and chemistry to clinical studies that evaluate new medicines in patients.

No matter the research focus, the goal is always the same, to advance human health. It may take a few months, a few years or for fundamental science, a few decades. Few people make the connection that biomedical science is medicine and that biomedical scientists are working today on the medicine of tomorrow. Our weekly 500-word newspaper columns and 2-minute radio shows and podcasts provide insights into a broad range of biomedical science topics.

Medical Discovery News is dedicated to explaining discoveries in biomedical research and their promise for the future of medicine.


Alternatively, you can copy and paste the following web address (URL) into iTunes as a new subscription:

You can also search and subscribe to "Medical Discovery News" in the podcast section of iTunes.

See all podcasts and radio stations

The web site and Medical Discovery News radio program (Program) are made possible by The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB)as a community service and are intended to advance UTMB's mission of providing scholarly teaching, innovative scientific investigation, and state-of-the-art patient care in a learning environment to better the health of society and its commitment to the discovery of new innovative biomedical and health services knowledge leading to increasingly effective and accessible health care for the citizens of Texas.

All information provided on the web site and in the Program is for informational purposes only and is not intended for use as diagnosis or treatment of a health problem or as a substitute for consulting a licensed medical professional. Any information obtained by participating as a web site visitor or program listener is not intended to and should not be considered to constitute medical advice.

Thoughts and opinions expressed on the Program or on the website are those of the authors or guests and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of UTMB. The provision of links to other websites is not to be construed as written or implied sponsorship or endorsement of such websites by UTMB.

Please contact Dr. David Niesel or Dr. Norbert Herzog via email with any concerns, suggestions or comments.

All rights are reserved to information provided on the website or other information sources. No part of these programs can be reproduced stored in a retrieval system or transcribed in any form or by any means for personal or financial gained without the express written permission of Drs. Niesel and Dr. Herzog.