The human bitter taste receptor TAS2R7 facilitates the detection of bitter salts

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2019 May 14;512(4):877-881. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2019.03.139. Epub 2019 Mar 28.


The human sense of taste is devoted to the analysis of the chemical composition of food prior to ingestion. Among the five basic taste qualities bitter taste perception is believed to avoid ingestion of potentially toxic substances. The receptors facilitating the detection of hundreds of chemically different bitter compounds belong to the taste 2 receptor (TAS2R) family, which are part of the G protein-coupled superfamily. Although the chemical classes of bitter compounds that have been identified as agonists of one of the 25 potentially functional human bitter taste receptors cover an enormous chemical space, one distinct group of bitter compounds, the bitter salts have not been assigned to any bitter taste receptor. To close this gap, we screened the entire human bitter taste receptor repertoire by functional calcium mobilization assays with the most famous bitter salt, magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salt. Although the profound pharmacological activity and the bitter taste of spring water containing magnesium sulfate has been known since 1697, the molecular basis for its taste has not been elucidated until now. Our screening resulted in the identification of a single receptor, the TAS2R7, responding to magnesium sulfate at concentrations humans perceive this salt as bitter. Subsequently, TAS2R7 was stimulated with other salts and it was found that this receptor also responds to manganese2+ and iron2+ ions, but not to potassium ions. Magnesium sulfate is known to exert a number of beneficial effects on the human body and thus, has been used as medicine against premature uterine contractions, as anti-arrhythmic drug and as laxative, however, magnesium sulfate overdosage can result in cardiac arrest and thus have fatal consequences. Therefore, it appears reasonable that nature placed TAS2R7 as sentinel for high concentrations of bitter salts on our tongues.

Keywords: Bitter salt; Bitter taste receptor; Functional expression; TAS2R.

MeSH terms

  • Calcium / metabolism
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Magnesium Sulfate
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism*
  • Salts
  • Taste*


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Salts
  • TAS2R7 protein, human
  • Magnesium Sulfate
  • Calcium