There are 25 types of functional bitter taste receptors found in humans. They are located on our tongue which helps in the perception of bitter tasting compounds. In addition there are growing evidences that cells of extra-oral organs also have such receptors. Since we do not “taste” with these receptors expressed in non-gustatory tissues, the question is what purpose they perform in these tissues. Some of this is already known. Some of this knowledge is already in the public domain.
Cancer cells also have bitter receptors
Recent research suggests that bitter taste receptors could perform physiological functions that could aid in the prevention or treatment of certain diseases.
Agnes Mistlberger–Reiner study author, postdoctoral research Department of Physiological Chemistry University of Vienna
This also applies to cancer, she said, since bitter taste receptors are also present and actively active in cancerous cells.
The University of Vienna, the Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology in Munich, and the Medical University of Vienna performed an exhaustive search on PubMed/Google Scholar to obtain a comprehensive overview of the state of science regarding “bitter taste receptors & cancer”. The systematic review covered studies that investigated the connection between bitter compounds and taste perception, diet and the incidence and severity of various cancers. The review also included studies that investigated the role of bitter receptors at the molecular level in carcinogenesis.
Individual taste perception diet, taste perception and cancer
“As our data analysis has revealed, there is no connection between genetically determined differences of the perception of bitter compounds, diet, and the development of carcinoma,” Veronika Somoza, director-in-charge of the Department of Physiological Chemistry and director of Leibniz Institute Freising, says that “no connection has been established so far.” The study also showed that the expression of bitter taste receptor genes in cancer cells and tissues is usually reduced, which means that less gene products are detectable.
However, there is evidence that suggests the targeted activation and the overexpression of these receptor genes activates cells’ anti-cancer mechanisms.
Sofie Zehentner, first author and PhD student
These include effects such as decreased cell division and migration as well as an increased apoptosis rate, i.e. an increase in the programed cell death rate of cancerous cells.
“There is plenty to suggest that bitter taste receptors play an important role in the cellular mechanisms of cancer. This makes them a desirable target for the development new treatments. Veronika Somoza stated that we will continue to investigate the functions and potential uses of the bitter taste receptors.
The review article is the product of a study that was funded by the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF) which the scientists working with Veronika Somoza are studying the extent to homoeriodicytol’s aroma-based compound is effective against the symptoms of taste in cancer patients.
Zehentner S., and others. (2021). The Role of Bitter Taste Rectors in Cancer A Systematic Analysis. Cancers. doi.org/10.3390/cancers13235891.
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