Defective sweet taste receptor gene shapes cat cuisine

Philadelphia, PA -- Scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in collaboration with scientists from the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, UK, report that a defect in a gene that codes for part of the mammalian sweet taste receptor can account for cats' indifference to sugar and other sweets.

Cat owners have long recognized that, unlike most mammals, domestic cats are uniformly uninterested in sweet-tasting foods. According to an early study conducted at Monell in the 1970s, the same indifference to sweets is also evident in wild cats such as lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars.

"One possible explanation for this behavior is that felines are unable to detect sweet-tasting compounds like sugars and high intensity sweeteners because their sweet taste receptor is defective," comments Xia Li, PhD, a molecular geneticist at Monell and lead author of the current study. "An obvious place to look, therefore, is at the genes coding for the sweet-taste receptor."

The mammalian sweet receptor is composed of two protein subunits, known as T1R2 and T1R3. Each is coded for by a separate gene. In the new study, reported in the July 2005 inaugural issue of PLoS (Public Library of Science) Genetics, the researchers show a defect in the gene encoding the T1R2 protein in domestic cats.

The Monell researchers also detected the same gene defect in tiger and cheetah, suggesting that it is common to species throughout the cat family. "This type of gene is known as a pseudogene and is somewhat like a molecular fossil," says Li. "It presumably once coded a functional protein, but no longer does so."

Li explains, "Genes contain signals that indicate the start and stop points for information about the amino acid sequence of a given protein. We found a deletion of 247 base pairs in the gene that codes for T1R2 in the cat. As a consequence of this deletion, the stop point is shifted. The T1R2 protein is not made and thus is unavai

Contact: Leslie Stein
Monell Chemical Senses Center

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