How ion channels make us happy on Saint Nicholas Day

Just a couple of days ago, many of us woke up to find chocolates and gingerbread left by St. Nicholas. Now, as we’re finishing the last of these delicious treats (some of us couldn’t even resist enjoying them during meetings), let’s explore the intriguing science behind what makes them so irresistibly tasty. After all, it’s all about ion channels and transporters. And we at Nanion love ion channels and transporters.

Take a bite of dark chocolate and you’ll experience a pleasant sweetness. This is because the TRPM5 ion channel in your taste buds gets activated, downstream of specialized G-protein-coupled sweet receptors, telling your brain, “Hey, this is sweet!” But, if you’re a heavy smoker, you might find it less sweet, as nicotine is known to inhibit TRPM5.

Now, imagine biting into a piece of chocolate with salty caramel. The combination of sweet and salty flavors is enchanting. Various receptors, ion channels, and transporters work together to create this exotic taste. Along with TRPM5, ENaC channels get activated for the salty taste. Maybe even TMC4 chloride channels join in if it’s extra salty. And likely, the sodium-glucose cotransporter 1 (SGLT1) is also working hard to boost your sweet sensations.

Then, there’s the gingerbread. It’s not just sweet – it’s warm and spicy. Here, TRPV1, a pain receptor in your sensory nerve endings, is slightly activated by gingerol, adding that spicy kick to your taste.

It’s pretty amazing to realize that there’s so much science in every bite. But, it’s also crucial to note that all these ion channels and transporters, contributing to our taste sensations, are found throughout our body, playing vital roles in many physiological processes. Dysfunctions in these channels are linked to various diseases. For example, mutations in the “sweet” TRPM5 are associated with type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome; the “salty” ENaC is being eyed for cystic fibrosis treatments; SGLT1 is a potential target for metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, while TRPV1-targeting drugs are already used in clinics as analgesics.

We at Nanion are immensely proud to support the ongoing advancement of this fascinating field. Scientists from Aptuit and Takeda Pharmaceuticals have utilized our Syncropatch 384 for high-throughput screening of TRPM5 modulators, while SB Drug Discovery performed screening of TRPV1 ligands. We’ve recently performed functional characterization of SGLT1 transporter using SSM-based electrophysiology (SURFE2R), whereas Sanofi published a detailed protocol on the use of the SURFE²R to pharmacologically characterize electrogenic transporters in the context of drug discovery.

These are just a few examples of how our instruments help scientists in their research and drug discovery projects. Interested in learning more about us? Please visit our website at https://www.nanion.de/ or simply email us at info@nanion.de. We’ll be happy to help you accelerate your research.