Bitter on the Brain Update

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By Nicole Garneau, PhD

bitter brain

First it was the tongue, then the guts, then the lungs, now researchers have found evidence that there are bitter taste receptors in the brain! Why? The scientists think that the activation of bitter taste receptors in the brain increases calcium in brain cells and this increase in calcium leads to the production of chemicals in the brain that regulate food intake.

Questions to think about:

1. What is the actual ligand (the bitter chemical/molecule) in the brain that activates the taste receptors? This study uses quinine as a ligand to prove that the cells are there and can be activated, but the scientists add the quinine specifically to see if the cells react.

2. What concentration of the ligand really needs to occur naturally in the brain for the receptors to be activated? There is proof that quinine can cross the blood brain barrier, so if the ligand is quinine, how much needs to be around for the brain cells to be activated by it?

3. What is the true physiological affect of having brain cells express taste receptors that can be activated by bitter compounds? Scientists would need to do experiements that study behavoir to know if the activated cells either stimulate or block food consumption.

3. This study was done in rats, would scientists find the same receptors in human brain cells? Does this affect how much we eat?

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