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Psst! Coffee drinkers: Fruit flies have something to tell you about caffeine

eat as much as they wanted of either or both of two concoctions: a blue-colored mixture of sugar and agar and a red-colored mixture of caffeine, sugar and agar. The researchers then flipped the flies onto their backs and looked at the color of their bellies to see what they ate - blue indicating a preference for eating sugar, red indicating a preference for bitter caffeine, and purple indicating no preference.

Flies missing the critical taste receptor protein Gr66a consumed the bitter caffeine solution to the same extent as the sugar-only solution. Montell and colleagues conclude that Gr66a is crucial for the normal caffeine avoidance behavior and without it, flies are seemingly indifferent to the bitter taste.

The researchers went on to examine whether this indifference to bitter was due to the taste nerves on the fly's "tongue" or some malfunction in the fly's brain. Chemical stimulants trigger taste receptor cells to send an electrical current to the brain where the information is processed and often leads to a change in behavior, such as the decision to eat or avoid.

With fine tools, the research team recorded electrical currents in those cells known to contain the Gr66a caffeine taste receptor in the fly's equivalent of the taste buds - dubbed the taste bristles.

Applying sugar to the taste bristles of normal flies, or to mutant flies missing the Gr66a protein, causes the neurons to produce electrical current "spikes" at a frequency of about 20 spikes per second. Other bitter compounds like quinine generated electrical current spikes at about the same frequency in the mutants.

Only flies missing the Gr66a taste receptor protein were unable to generate any current spikes when given caffeine. "This is a clear demonstration that Gr66a is functioning in the taste receptor cells and is not a 'general sensor' for bitter compounds, but is required more specifically for the caffeine response," says Montell.

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Source:Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions


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