Fatty acid modulation of K+ channels in taste receptor cells: gustatory cues for dietary fat

T. A. Gilbertson, D. T. Fontenot, L. Liu, H. Zhang, W. T. Monroe


In an attempt to determine the chemosensory cues, if any, provided by fats in the oral cavity, we have performed patch-clamp recordings on isolated rat taste receptor cells during application of free fatty acids. Cis-polyunsaturated fatty acids, when applied extracellularly, inhibit delayed-rectifying K+ channels. In a subset of cells, these fatty acids also enhance inwardly rectifying K+ currents. Saturated, monounsaturated, and trans-polyunsaturated fatty acids have no significant effect on K+ currents. These effects do not involve activation of G protein-mediated pathways, including protein kinase C and protein kinase A, lipoxygenase pathways, cyclooxygenase pathways, or cytochrome P-450 pathways, consistent with direct effects on these ion channels or closely associated proteins. The net effect of fatty acids is to prolong stimulus-induced depolarizations of taste receptor cells, and we propose the effects on K+ channels represent the mechanism by which fats are detected by receptor cells in the oral cavity.