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Herbicides, Fibrate Drugs May Block Taste Receptors

More research needed to determine the health consequences of compounds in question, experts say

TUESDAY, Oct. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Some common herbicides and cholesterol drugs block a nutrient-sensing receptor known as T1R3, researchers report.

"Compounds that either activate or block T1R3 receptors could have significant metabolic effects, potentially influencing diseases such as obesity, type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome," study author Dr. Bedrich Mosinger said in a news release. Mosinger is a geneticist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

The receptor helps the body detect sweetness and the savory taste known as umami. It's found on the tongue and also appears to be in the intestine and pancreas.

According to scientists, the receptors notice that nutrients are in food and set off their processing.

In the study, recently published online in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, researchers looked at two compounds -- fibrates and phenoxy-herbicides -- to see if they had an effect on the receptors.

Fibrate drugs treat disorders such as high cholesterol and triglycerides. Phenoxy-herbicides, including the commonplace 2,4-D, are used to combat destructive weeds.

The researchers, from Monell and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, found that both classes of compounds blocked the receptor from activating.

"The metabolic consequences of short- and long-term exposures of humans to phenoxy-herbicides are unknown," Mosinger said. "This is because most safety tests were done using animals, which have T1R3 receptors that are insensitive to these compounds."

Ultimately, he said, "given the number of compounds used in agriculture, medicine and the food industry that may affect human T1R3 and related receptors, more work is needed to identify the health-related effects of exposure to these compounds."

More information

Learn more about the sense of taste in this presentation for kids by the University of Washington.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Monell Chemical Senses Center, news release, Oct. 9, 2009

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