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Biological Chemistry

Sugary Boost Without The Calories

Heterocyclic compounds act on taste receptors to enhance the sweetness of sugar and artificial sweeteners

by Sophie L. Rovner
February 22, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 8

Sugar substitutes are great for reducing calories but suffer from flaws including an inexact mimicry of natural sugar flavor and a bitter aftertaste when used in high concentrations. Guy Servant and colleagues at the flavor ingredient discovery and development company Senomyx, in La Jolla, Calif., in collaboration with Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, have found a set of heterocyclic compounds that enhance the sweetness of sugar and certain sugar substitutes while keeping calories to a minimum (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0911670107). The researchers discovered the compounds with the help of a cell-based assay, synthetic chemistry, and a panel of trained tasters. Although they bear some resemblance to the artificial sweetener saccharin, the compounds don’t have a sweet flavor. In a separate study, a Senomyx team including Xiaodong Li along with colleagues at computational drug discovery firm BioPredict, in Oradell, N.J., showed that the compounds bind to the sweet taste receptor near the region where sugar and artificial sweeteners bind. The researchers propose that the sweetness enhancers act as allosteric modulators by stabilizing the receptor in the activated conformation and increasing its affinity for sweetener molecules (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0911660107).


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