Katherine Bourzac

A View from Katherine Bourzac

A Tasty Molecular Clue to Better Drugs

A natural flavor-enhancing mechanism could improve drug delivery.

  • January 7, 2009

The savory flavor that makes it hard to stop eating flamin’ hot Cheetos could perhaps hold the key to delivering drugs more effectively.

Our tongues find this flavor, called umami, in protein-rich foods; it’s actually a response to glutamate (or glutamic acid). Dubbed the “fifth taste” (in addition to sour, salty, sweet, and bitter), umami was named by a Japanese scientist in 1908 and has come to prominence in the American consciousness more recently (it’s now being used to advertise soy sauce).

Now a California food-science company called Senomyx has uncovered the molecular mechanism that helps enhance umami flavor, and the discovery could not only lead to new flavor enhancers, but also help drug companies looking for molecules to deliver drugs more effectively.

As the researchers describe in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a molecule that enhances the umami flavor–ribonucleotide inosine monophosphate–binds along with glutamate to two different targets on a common-type cell receptor called a GPCR (G protein-coupled receptor). The double binding helps enhance the signal.

Since GPCRs are implicated in many diseases and are the target of half of all drugs on the market, understanding this double binding could lead to drug combinations that work better at lower doses.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.