Bitter taste receptors identified

March 17, 2000 -- Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) researchers at the University of California, San Diego and their colleagues at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) have identified a new family of genes that encode proteins that function as bitter taste receptors.

The research, which is reported in two articles in the March 17, 2000, issue of the journal Cell, provides important insight into the organization of the taste system.

"We've been trying for the past four years to understand how the taste system works, focusing primarily on sweet and bitter signaling," says Charles Zuker, an HHMI investigator at the University of California, San Diego. Now, the researchers have conducted a series of experiments that they say demonstrates conclusively that this family of genes indeed contains human and rodent taste receptors.

"We now have the means to really start to investigate how taste works, not just in the tongue, but also what happens in the brain," says Nicholas Ryba of NIDCR.

The research group includes Zuker and colleagues Ken Mueller, Jayaram Chandrashekar and Wei Guo of the University of California, San Diego; Elliot Adler, Mark Hoon and Ryba of the NIDCR; and Luxin Feng of Aurora Biosciences in La Jolla, Calif.

In 1999, a team led by Zuker and Ryba reported the discovery of two genes, T1R1 and T1R2, which had most of the characteristics expected of taste receptor genes. The genes resembled other known sensory receptor genes and were expressed in the appropriate places inside taste receptor cells on the tongue and palate. But Zuker and Ryba hypothesized that two receptors seemed far too few to handle the huge number of chemicals that produce sweet and bitter substances. What's more, T1R1 and T1R2 generally were not found in the same pl

Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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