Genetic variation in the ability to taste the bitterness of 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) is a complex trait that has been used to predict food preferences and eating habits. PROP tasting is primarily controlled by polymorphisms in the TAS2R38 gene. However, a variety of factors are known to modify the phenotype. Principle among them is the salivary protein Ps-1 belonging to the basic proline-rich protein family (bPRP). Recently, we showed that oral supplementation with Ps-1 as well as its related free amino acids (L-Arg and L-Lys) enhances PROP bitterness perception, especially for PROP non-tasters who have low salivary levels of Ps-1. Here, we show that salivary L-Arg levels are higher in PROP super-tasters compared to medium tasters and non-tasters, and that oral supplementation with free L-Arg enhances PROP bitterness intensity as well as reduces bitterness latency in a dose-dependent manner, particularly in individuals with low salivary levels of both free L-Arg and Ps-1 protein. Supplementation with L-Arg also enhanced the bitterness of caffeine. We also used 1H-NMR spectroscopy and quantum-mechanical calculations carried out by Density Functional Theory (DFT) to characterize the chemical interaction between free L-Arg and the PROP molecule. Results showed that the -NH2 terminal group of the L-ArgH+ side chain interacts with the carbonyl or thiocarbonyl groups of PROP by forming two hydrogen bonds with the resulting charged adduct. The formation of this PROP•ArgH+ hydrogen-bonded adduct could enhance bitterness intensity by increasing the solubility of PROP in saliva and its availability to receptor sites. Our data suggest that L-Arg could act as a 'carrier' of various bitter molecules in saliva.
- basic PRP
- taste perception