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The Importance of Being Tasty

The Importance of Being Tasty

Background: The sense of taste is an important factor in food choice and eating. Taste perception is responsible not only for our preference for eating certain foods, but also for providing important information about our chemical environment, such as avoiding bitter poisonous substances. The sense of taste is responsible for detecting and responding to sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami (amino acid) stimuli.

Advances: To examine taste signal detection and information processing, NIDCD-supported scientists focused on the isolation and characterization of sweet and umami (amino acid sensing) taste receptors. These receptors provide powerful molecular tools that outline how the taste system is organized and help define the logic of taste coding. Using mice, scientists have demonstrated that sweet and umami taste are strictly dependent on T1R receptor family. Receptors formed from T1R2 and T1R3 proteins together detect sweet substances, while receptors from T1R1 and T1R3 proteins together detect amino acids such as umami.

Implications: Since amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and sweet substances evoke food intake, these studies demonstrate that the taste substances initiating ingestion and the intake of essential calories share a common receptor type. This can have future implications as scientists seek ways to help find solutions for restoring a person’s lost sense of taste, as well as understanding eating behavior.