A team of scientists at the University of Bourgogne, in Dijon, France, led by Philippe Besnard, looked at the tongues of mice and found a receptor protein, called CD36, that appears to make lipids taste delicious to the animals.
In their work, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, they demonstrated that when mice deprived of the use of CD36 were given a choice between a liquid laced with lipids and a fat-free drink, they showed no preference for either.
However, their normal brethren, with the CD36 "taste bud," chose the fatty drink every time and drank far more of it.
In addition, they showed that stimulation of CD36 (also termed fatty acid transporter, or FAT) influences behavioral and digestive physiology.
When Besnard and his colleagues stimulated CD36 with lipids, the mice began releasing bile into their intestines even though they had not consumed any fat.
The researchers say humans probably also have CD36 taste receptors, and variations in their sensitivity may be linked to eating disorders and obesity.
According to Nada Abumrad, a nutritional researcher at Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, who wrote a commentary to accompany the article, "There is a clear evolutionary advantage to having a taste bud for lipids. It showed our ancestors that fatty foods are good for us, because they allow us to store energy."
Abumrad also writes that the discovery may lead to better strategies for combating addictions to dietary fat.
Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur