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Concept: Sweetness


Cats are obligate carnivores and under most circumstances eat only animal products. Owing to the pseudogenization of one of two subunits of the sweet receptor gene, they are indifferent to sweeteners, presumably having no need to detect plant-based sugars in their diet. Following this reasoning and a recent report of a positive correlation between the proportion of dietary plants and the number of Tas2r (bitter receptor) genes in vertebrate species, we tested the hypothesis that if bitter perception exists primarily to protect animals from poisonous plant compounds, the genome of the domestic cat (Felis catus) should have lost functional bitter receptors and they should also have reduced bitter receptor function. To test functionality of cat bitter receptors, we expressed cat Tas2R receptors in cell-based assays. We found that they have at least 7 functional receptors with distinct receptive ranges, showing many similarities, along with some differences, with human bitter receptors. To provide a comparative perspective, we compared the cat repertoire of intact receptors with those of a restricted number of members of the order Carnivora, with a range of dietary habits as reported in the literature. The numbers of functional bitter receptors in the terrestrial Carnivora we examined, including omnivorous and herbivorous species, were roughly comparable to that of cats thereby providing no strong support for the hypothesis that a strict meat diet influences bitter receptor number or function. Maintenance of bitter receptor function in terrestrial obligate carnivores may be due to the presence of bitter compounds in vertebrate and invertebrate prey, to the necessary role these receptors play in non-oral perception, or to other unknown factors. We also found that the two aquatic Carnivora species examined had fewer intact bitter receptors. Further comparative studies of factors driving numbers and functions of bitter taste receptors will aid in understanding the forces shaping their repertoire.

Concepts: Sweetness, Felis, Protein, Predation, Carnivore, Mammal, Felidae, Cat


PURPOSE OF REVIEW: To review research by testing the validity of the analogy between addictive drugs, like cocaine, and hyperpalatable foods, notably those high in added sugar (i.e., sucrose). RECENT FINDINGS: Available evidence in humans shows that sugar and sweetness can induce reward and craving that are comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs. Although this evidence is limited by the inherent difficulty of comparing different types of rewards and psychological experiences in humans, it is nevertheless supported by recent experimental research on sugar and sweet reward in laboratory rats. Overall, this research has revealed that sugar and sweet reward can not only substitute to addictive drugs, like cocaine, but can even be more rewarding and attractive. At the neurobiological level, the neural substrates of sugar and sweet reward appear to be more robust than those of cocaine (i.e., more resistant to functional failures), possibly reflecting past selective evolutionary pressures for seeking and taking foods high in sugar and calories. SUMMARY: The biological robustness in the neural substrates of sugar and sweet reward may be sufficient to explain why many people can have difficultly to control the consumption of foods high in sugar when continuously exposed to them.

Concepts: Cognitive science, Sweetness, Nicotine, Reward system, Dopamine, Addiction, Sugar, Drug addiction


Domestic cats (felis catus) have a reputation for being rather unpredictable in their dietary choices. While their appetite for protein or savory flavors is consistent with their nutritional needs, their preference among protein-sufficient dietary options may relate to differences in the response to other flavor characteristics. Studies of domestic cat taste perception are limited, in part, due to the lack of receptor sequence information. Several studies have described the phylogenetic relationship of specific cat taste receptor sequences as compared with other carnivores. For example, domestic cats are obligate carnivores and their receptor Tas1r2, associated with the human perception of sweet, is present only as a pseudogene. Similarly, the cat perception of bitter may differ from that of other mammals due to variations in their repertoire of bitter receptor (Tas2r) genes. This report includes the first functional characterization of domestic cat taste receptors.

Concepts: Tongue, Sweetness, Felis, Taste receptor, Protein, Felidae, Mammal, Cat


Food products containing non-nutritive sweeteners (NNSs) instead of sugar have become increasingly popular in the last decades. Their appeal is obviously related to their calorie-free sweet taste. However, with the dramatic increase in their consumption, it is reasonable and timely to evaluate their potential health benefits and, more importantly, potential adverse effects. The main aim of this scoping review was to map the evidence about health outcomes possibly associated with regular NNS consumption by examining the extent, range, and nature of research activity in this area.

Concepts: Monosaccharide, Sucralose, Sweetness, Flavor, Nutrition, Perl, Food, Sugar


Non-nutritive sweeteners like sucralose are consumed by billions of people. While animal and human studies have demonstrated a link between synthetic sweetener consumption and metabolic dysregulation, the mechanisms responsible remain unknown. Here we use a diet supplemented with sucralose to investigate the long-term effects of sweet/energy imbalance. In flies, chronic sweet/energy imbalance promoted hyperactivity, insomnia, glucose intolerance, enhanced sweet taste perception, and a sustained increase in food and calories consumed, effects that are reversed upon sucralose removal. Mechanistically, this response was mapped to the ancient insulin, catecholamine, and NPF/NPY systems and the energy sensor AMPK, which together comprise a novel neuronal starvation response pathway. Interestingly, chronic sweet/energy imbalance promoted increased food intake in mammals as well, and this also occurs through an NPY-dependent mechanism. Together, our data show that chronic consumption of a sweet/energy imbalanced diet triggers a conserved neuronal fasting response and increases the motivation to eat.

Concepts: Taste, Sweeteners, Food, Sweetness, Sugar, Eating, Sucralose, Nutrition


High intake of added sugars is associated with excess energy intake and poorer diet quality. The objective of this cross-sectional study (n = 16,806) was to estimate usual intakes and the primary food sources of added sugars across the range of intakes (i.e., deciles) among U.S. children (2-8 years), adolescents and teens (9-18 years), and adults (≥19 years) using the National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES) data from 2009-2012. The percent energy contributed by added sugars was 14.3 ± 0.2% (2-8 years), 16.2 ± 0.2% (9-18 years), and 13.1 ± 0.2% (≥19 years), suggesting the highest intakes are among adolescents and teens. However, the primary foods/beverages that contribute to added sugars were remarkably consistent across the range of intakes, with the exception of the lowest decile, and include sweetened beverages and sweet bakery products. Interestingly across all age groups, even those in the lowest decile of added sugars exceed the 10% guidelines. Additional foods contributing to high intakes were candy and other desserts (e.g., ice cream) in children and adolescents, and coffee and teas in adults. Tailoring public health messaging to reduce intakes of these identified food groups may be of utility in designing effective strategies to reduce added sugar intake in the U.S.

Concepts: Sweetness, Intake, Epidemiology, Coffee, Carbohydrate, Sugar, Nutrition, Food


Public health policies, including in Europe, are considering measures and recommendations to limit the intake of added or free sugars. For such policies to be efficient and monitored, a precise knowledge of the current situation regarding sugar intake in Europe is needed. This review summarizes published or re-analyzed data from 11 representative surveys in Belgium, France, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Norway, The Netherlands, Spain and the UK. Relative intakes were higher in children than in adults: total sugars ranged between 15 and 21% of energy intake in adults and between 16 and 26% in children. Added sugars (or non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES), in the UK) contributed 7 to 11% of total energy intake in adults and represented a higher proportion of children’s energy intake (11 to 17%). Educational level did not significantly affect intakes of total or added sugars in France and the Netherlands. Sweet products (e.g. confectionery, chocolates, cakes and biscuits, sugar, and jam) were major contributors to total sugars intake in all countries, genders and age groups, followed by fruits, beverages and dairy products. Fruits contributed more and beverages contributed less to adults' total sugars intakes than to children’s. Added sugars were provided mostly by sweet products (36 to 61% in adults and 40 to 50% in children), followed by beverages (12 to 31% in adults and 20 to 34% in children, fruit juices excluded), then by dairy products (4 to 15% in adults and 6 to 18% in children). Caution is needed, however, as survey methodologies differ on important items such as dietary data collection, food composition tables or estimation of added sugars. Cross-country comparisons are thus not meaningful and overall information might thus not be robust enough to provide a solid basis for implementation of policy measures. Data nevertheless confirm that intakes of total and added sugars are high in the European countries considered, especially in children, and point to sweet products and beverages as the major contributors to added sugar intakes.

Concepts: Sweetness, Milk, Netherlands, European Union, Carbohydrate, Energy, Europe, Sugar


The objective was to evaluate physical and chemical properties of eight pomegranate accessions (seven cultivars and one wild genotype) collected from the Mediterranean region of Croatia. Accessions showed high variability in fruit weight and size, calyx and peel properties, number of arils per fruit, total aril weight, and aril and juice yield. Variables that define sweet taste, such as low total acidity (TA; 0.37-0.59%), high total soluble solids content (TSS; 12.5-15.0%) and their ratio (TSS/TA) were evaluated, and results generally aligned with sweetness classifications of the fruit. Pomegranate fruit had a high variability in total phenolic content (1985.6-2948.7 mg/L). HPLC-MALDI-TOF/MS analysis showed that accessions with dark red arils had the highest total anthocyanin content, with cyanidin 3-glucoside as the most abundant compound. Principal component analysis revealed great differences in fruit physical characteristics and chemical composition among pomegranate accessions.

Concepts: Sweetness, Principal component analysis, Olive, Citrus, Mediterranean climate, Aril, Fruit, Pomegranate


We previously established that the intestinal sweet taste receptors (STRs), T1R2 and T1R3, were expressed in distinct epithelial cells in the human proximal intestine, and that their transcript levels varied with glycemic status in patients with type 2 diabetes. Here we determined whether STR expression was (i) acutely regulated by changes in luminal and systemic glucose levels, (ii) disordered in type 2 diabetes, and (iii) linked to glucose absorption. Fourteen healthy subjects and 13 patients with type 2 diabetes were studied twice, at euglycemia (5.2 ± 0.2 mmol/L) or hyperglycemia (12.3 ± 0.2 mmol/L). Endoscopic biopsies were collected from the duodenum at baseline and after a 30 min intraduodenal glucose infusion (30 g/150 ml water plus 3 g 3-O-methylglucose, 3-OMG). STR transcripts were quantified by RT-PCR and plasma assayed for 3-OMG concentration. Intestinal STR transcript levels at baseline were unaffected by acute variations in glycemia in healthy subjects and type 2 patients. T1R2 transcript levels increased after luminal glucose infusion in both groups during euglycemia (+5.8 × 10(4) and +5.8 × 10(4) copies, respectively), but decreased in healthy subjects during hyperglycemia (-1.4 × 10(4) copies). T1R2 levels increased significantly in type 2 patients under the same conditions (+6.9 × 10(5) copies). Plasma 3-OMG concentrations were significantly higher in type 2 patients than healthy controls during acute hyperglycemia. Intestinal T1R2 expression is reciprocally regulated by luminal glucose in health according to glycemic status, but is disordered in type 2 diabetes during acute hyperglycemia. This defect may enhance glucose absorption in type 2 patients and exacerbate postprandial hyperglycemia.

Concepts: Hormone, Gene expression, Sweetness, Small intestine, Protein, Blood sugar, Diabetes mellitus, Nutrition


Thaumatin is an intensely sweet-tasting protein that elicits sweet taste at a concentration of 50 nM, a value 100,000 times larger than that of sucrose on a molar basis. Here we attempted to produce a protein with enhanced sweetness by removing negative charges on the interacting side of thaumatin with the taste receptor. We obtained a D21N mutant which, with a threshold value 31 nM is much sweeter than wild type thaumatin and, together with the Y65R mutant of single chain monellin, one of the two sweetest proteins known so far. The complex model between the T1R2-T1R3 sweet receptor and thaumatin, derived from tethered docking in the framework of the wedge model, confirmed that each of the positively charged residues critical for sweetness is close to a receptor residue of opposite charge to yield optimal electrostatic interaction. Furthermore, the distance between D21 and its possible counterpart D433 (located on the T1R2 protomer of the receptor) is safely large to avoid electrostatic repulsion but, at the same time, amenable to a closer approach if D21 is mutated into the corresponding asparagine. These findings clearly confirm the importance of electrostatic potentials in the interaction of thaumatin with the sweet receptor.

Concepts: Monosaccharide, Gustation, Electrostatics, Sweetness, Fundamental physics concepts, Sugar, Electron, Electric charge