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U. Iowa study adds to understanding of salt-taste

team discovered that two of these ion channel genes are involved in the detection of low salt concentrations. The study also suggests that these genes play some role in detecting high salt concentrations, but it is likely that other pathways also are involved in high salt detection.

The UI team focused on the two pickpocket genes, ppk11 and ppk19, because they found that these genes are expressed in body parts of the flies that are involved in taste-sensing. In the fruit fly larva (young flies) the genes are expressed in a body part known as the terminal organ, which resembles a human taste bud.

Using a series of behavioral experiments, the UI researchers discovered that disrupting the two genes impaired the ability of young flies to detect low salt concentrations.

Normally, young fruit flies prefer water containing low salt concentrations to plain water. However, young flies with disrupted genes were unable to detect low salt. Disrupting either gene also altered how both young and adult flies reacted to high salt concentrations.

"When we disrupt the genes we see defects in behavior," Liu said. "To see if the receptor cell itself is being affected, we measured the action potential (nerve impulse) of the receptor cell in the terminal organ of the mutant larva. The response of the receptor cell to salt is reduced by the mutation."

The UI study also showed that the two genes play a role in the ability of flies to distinguish between different types of salt (sodium chloride and potassium chloride). However, disrupting the genes did not seem to affect the fruit flies' responses to other tastes.

Understanding salt-sensing mechanisms and identifying two ion-channel proteins that detect low salt in fruit flies may be directly relevant to the salt-sensing system in humans.

Although salt is an essential nutrient, individuals with certain conditions such as high blood pressure or heart failure are often advised to redu
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Contact: Jennifer Brown
jennifer-l-brown@uiowa.edu
319-335-9917
University of Iowa
2-Jul-2003


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