NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ: - About five years ago, animal studies first revealed the presence of entirely novel types of oral fat sensors or receptors on the tongue. Prior to this time, it was believed that fats were perceived only by flavor and texture cues. With this new information, "everything that we thought we knew about fat perception got turned on its head," said Beverly Tepper, a professor in the Department of Food Science at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.
Tepper has been studying consumer preferences for high-fat versus low-fat foods, and has been intrigued by the questions: "Why are some people more sensitive and others less sensitive to fat?" "Is this a personal trait?" "And do genes contribute to these differences?"
Those new discoveries suggest that fats are perceived on the tongue as a "taste" sensation by binding to specialized receptors on taste buds. More specifically, Tepper explained, "fats are broken down in the mouth to fatty acids, and it's the fatty acids that bind to these receptors."
One oral fat receptor that has attracted a great deal of recent attention is CD36, a carrier protein that helps fatty acids traverse cell membranes in many tissues of the body. This is necessary for fats to participate in many different metabolic functions. Recent studies show that CD36 is also located on the surface of taste buds and may send signals to the brain about the presence of fat in the mouth.
But how is CD36 related to consumer fat preferences and the possible genetic differences that Tepper and colleagues are so keen on understanding?
The answer lies in a new study published in the journal Obesity by Tepper, in conjunction with her former student Kathleen Keller, who received her Ph.D. in 2002 from Rutgers' graduate program in nutritional sciences. Keller, an assistant professor of nutritional sciences at The Pennsylvania State University and lead author on the article, studi
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