Functional bitter taste receptors are expressed in brain cells.
Humans are capable of sensing five basic tastes which are sweet, sour, salt, umami and bitter. Of these, bitter taste perception provides protection against ingestion of potentially toxic substances. Bitter taste is sensed by bitter taste receptors (T2Rs) that belong to the G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) superfamily. Humans have 25 T2Rs that are expressed in the oral cavity, gastrointestinal (GI) neuroendocrine cells and airway cells. Electrophysiological studies of the brain neurons show that the neurons are able to respond to different tastants. However, the presence of bitter taste receptors in brain cells has not been elucidated. In this report using RT-PCR, and immunohistochemistry analysis we show that T2Rs are expressed in multiple regions of the rat brain. RT-PCR analysis revealed the presence of T2R4, T2R107 and T2R38 transcripts in the brain stem, cerebellum, cortex and nucleus accumbens. The bitter receptor T2R4 was selected for further analysis at the transcript level by quantitative real time PCR and at the protein level by immunohistochemistry. To elucidate if the T2R4 expressed in these cells is functional, assays involving G-protein mediated calcium signaling were carried out. The functional assays showed an increase in intracellular calcium levels after the application of exogenous ligands for T2R4, denatonium benzoate and quinine to these cultured cells, suggesting that endogenous T2R4 expressed in these cells is functional. We discuss our results in terms of the physiological relevance of bitter receptor expression in the brain.