The sense of taste provides animals with valuable information about the nature and quality of food. Mammals can recognize and respond to a diverse repertoire of chemical entities, including sugars, salts, acids and a wide range of toxic substances. Several amino acids taste sweet or delicious (umami) to humans, and are attractive to rodents and other animals. This is noteworthy because L-amino acids function as the building blocks of proteins, as biosynthetic precursors of many biologically relevant small molecules, and as metabolic fuel. Thus, having a taste pathway dedicated to their detection probably had significant evolutionary implications. Here we identify and characterize a mammalian amino-acid taste receptor. This receptor, T1R1+3, is a heteromer of the taste-specific T1R1 and T1R3 G-protein-coupled receptors. We demonstrate that T1R1 and T1R3 combine to function as a broadly tuned L-amino-acid sensor responding to most of the 20 standard amino acids, but not to their D-enantiomers or other compounds. We also show that sequence differences in T1R receptors within and between species (human and mouse) can significantly influence the selectivity and specificity of taste responses.
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