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Advancing Discovery in Taste and Smell

Press Release
contact: Leslie Stein, 267.519.4707 or


Endocannabinoid modulation of tongue sweet taste receptors may help
control feeding behavior

PHILADELPHIA (December 21, 2009) -- New findings from the Monell
Center and Kyushu University in Japan report that endocannabinoids act
directly on taste receptors on the tongue to enhance sweet taste.  

“Our taste cells may be more involved in regulating our appetites than
we had previously known,” said study author Robert Margolskee, M.D.,
Ph.D., a Monell molecular biologist.  “Better understanding of the
driving forces for eating and overeating could lead to interventions
to stem the burgeoning rise in obesity and related diseases.”

Endocannabinoids are substances similar to THC, the active ingredient
in marijuana.  Produced in the brain and body, they bind with
cannabinoid receptors to help regulate appetite and many other
processes involved in health and disease.  

“Endocannabinoids both act in the brain to increase appetite and also
modulate taste receptors on the tongue to increase the response to
sweets,” said study senior author Yuzo Ninomiya, Ph.D., Professor of
Oral Neuroscience in the Graduate School of Dental Sciences at Kyushu
University in Japan.  

In the study, published online in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, the researchers conducted a series of experiments
in mice to determine the behavioral, neural and cellular responses to
sweet taste stimuli before and after the administration of

Sweet taste responses were enhanced by endocannabinoids in every case.
The effect was specific for sweet taste, as endocannibinoids had no
effect on responses to sour, salty, bitter or umami taste stimuli.  

The effects were abolished when the experiments were repeated using
knockout mice lacking the CB1 cannabinoid receptor.  Additional
studies revealed that the CB1 receptor and the T1R3 sweet taste
receptor are present in the same taste cells.

Together, the experiments demonstrate that endocannabinoids
selectively enhance sweet taste by acting on tongue taste cells and
that the effect is mediated by the endocannabinoid receptor.

“Modulation of sweet taste responses may be an important component of
the endocannabinoid system’s role in regulating feeding behavior,”
said Margolskee.  He parenthetically noted that the well-known
"marijuana munchies" may depend at least in part on endocannabinoid
stimulation of tongue taste cells.

Sweet taste receptors also are found in the intestine and pancreas,
where they help regulate nutrient absorption, insulin secretion and
energy metabolism.  If endocannibinoids also modulate the responses of
pancreatic and intestinal sweet receptors, the findings may open doors
to the development of novel therapeutic compounds to combat metabolic
diseases such as obesity and diabetes. 

Also contributing to the study were Ryusuke Yoshida, Tadahiro Ohkuri,
Masafumi Jyotaki, Toshiaki Yasuo, Nao Horio, Keiko Yasumatsu, Keisuke
Sanematsu, Noriatsu Shigemura, Yuzo Ninomiya from Kyushu University
and Tsuneyuki Yamamoto from Nagasaki International University.

The research was funded by grants from the Japan Society for the
Promotion of Science and the National Institute on Deafness and Other
Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health.

The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent nonprofit basic
research institute based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Monell
advances scientific understanding of the mechanisms and functions of
taste and smell to benefit human health and well-being.  Using an
interdisciplinary approach, scientists collaborate in the programmatic
areas of sensation and perception; neuroscience and molecular biology;
environmental and occupational health; nutrition and appetite; health
and well-being; development, aging and regeneration; and chemical
ecology and communication. For more information about Monell, visit

Monell Chemical Senses Center 
3500 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19104	   267.519.4700

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