How your organs ‘taste’ sugar

| Written by jmoore
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You might be surprised to learn that the sensors for sweet-tasting molecules aren’t located only on your tongue—they’re also found in the gut, pancreas, fat tissue, and muscle. And new research from the laboratory of George Kyriazis, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Integrative Metabolism Program at Lake Nona, indicates just how important these sweet taste receptors are in regulating metabolism.

“Our new study shows that eliminating sugar sensors can protect against obesity-related metabolic disorders,” said Kyriazis. The findings may open new research avenues to develop treatments that prevent metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes.

Publishing in American Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism, the research team showed that mice lacking sweet taste receptors respond differently to a fattening diet than normal mice—they eat more, but still put on less fat mass.

“Most of the research on sweet taste receptors’ role in metabolism has been done under normal dietary conditions, but that doesn’t really get at their contribution to disease,” explained Kyriazis. “To address that gap, we looked at how they contribute to the effects of a diet that promotes obesity and metabolic problems.”

His team fed a high-fat/ low-carb diet to normal mice and mice genetically manipulated to lack the receptor. Because this diet tastes better to mice than normal chow, they eat more and become obese. While both groups put on the same amount of weight, those without the receptor gained less fat, and more lean mass, than normal mice.

“The lower fat gain in mice lacking the receptor could be caused by the involvement of multiple organs. Weight gain normally leads to hyperinsulinemia, or constantly high insulin levels, which further promotes fat storage, but these mice don’t have that response,” Kyriazis commented.

These observations suggest that blocking the sweet taste receptor could help prevent some of the metabolic complications associated with obesity, but Kyriazis cautions that further study is needed. “We still need to figure out the specific role of these receptors in individual organs, whether these results reflect what would happen in humans, and what the effects are in the long term.”

“Targeting taste receptors could be a different approach to dealing with metabolic diseases,” added Kyriazis. “It’s early to tell whether it will turn out to be beneficial for patients, but it does open new avenues for intervention.”

Read the paper here.

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