New York: In a major step towards developing successful salt replacers or enhancers, researchers have shed new light on the the identity and functionality of salt-responding taste cells on the tongue.
Public health efforts to reduce dietary sodium intake have been hindered by an incomplete understanding of the complex process by which humans and other mammals detect salty taste, the study pointed out.
“Understanding more about the mechanisms involved in detecting salt taste moves us closer to developing strategies to reduce the amount of salt in our food while still retaining the salty taste that people enjoy,” said the study’s lead author Brian Lewandowski, neurophysiologist at Monell Chemical Senses Centre at Philadelphia, US.
‘Salt’ is a chemical term that describes a compound made of positively and negatively charged ions; the most well-known example is sodium chloride (NaCl).
The primary process by which mammals detect NaCl, common table salt, is well understood, and occurs via a sodium receptor known as ENaC (epithelial sodium channel).
The ENaC receptor responds almost exclusively to sodium salts and is not influenced by the salt’s negative ion.
However, scientists know that a second salt-sensing receptor also exists, but much about this receptor, including its identity, remains unknown.
In the current study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Monell researchers identified the taste cells involved in this second salt taste mechanism and increased understanding of how they function.
“Now that we have isolated and better understand the cells involved in the second salt taste pathway, we can begin to study them in more detail,” one of the study authors Alexander Bachmanov from Monell Centre noted.