News Brief by Nicole Loranger
Just as artificial sweeteners were created to provide a desired taste while minimizing the negative impact on health, scientists have aimed to develop a chemical compound that mimics the taste of salt while helping to lower dietary sodium intake. Doing so, of course, requires in-depth knowledge of salt reception in taste buds, and recent findings may bring us that much closer to understanding how we taste salt.
The epithelial sodium channel (otherwise known as ENaC) is the primary process involved in salt-reception. ENaC has been understood to respond almost exclusively to sodium salts like NaCl; more specifically to the cations (Na+) of salts, and not the anions (Cl-). Another pathway was believed to exist, but because taste cells naturally cluster together in taste buds and are connected by a series of channels, it was difficult to identify and track this other pathway. For this reason, researchers at the Monell Center isolated taste cells in order to cut off intercellular communications and better observe the responses individual cells had to various salts. Their results lead to exciting findings regarding the nature of the second pathway: not only did they discover the location of the process to be “Type III” taste cells, but they also found that this pathway functions in the recognition of both cations and anions of salts through direct interaction between the cell and the ions. Next steps will include analyzing the cells to determine the genes and proteins involved in the detection of salty taste, which may eventually help scientists to engineer compounds that will provide the same, familiar taste, while taking measures to prevent the overconsumption of sodium.
Monell Chemical Senses Center. "Unraveling the enigma of salty taste detection: New findings could help identify successful salt replacer or enhancer." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 February 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160211142756.htm>