This is Your Brain on Starbucks

My father often jokes that hundreds of years from now, future anthropologists will speak of the cult of the Seattle goddess, her shrine adorning every airport, shopping mall, and train station in America.  The worshippers partake in a holy communion of coffee, tea, and espresso.  In fact, anthropologists today tell us that in some indigenous American cultures, drinking psychoactive peyote tea is an important part of religious ceremony.  And yet, the very phrase psychoactive tea is somewhat redundant.  All tea and coffee, unless decaffeinated, is psychoactive, albeit usually not to the same extent as peyote, a cactus native to the American Southwest that contains a hallucinogenic alkaloid called mescaline.Continue reading

New Ion Channel Identified for the Neurotransmission of Sweet, Bitter, and Umami Tastes

Take a moment to think about how amazing it is that we can taste so many flavors in the meals we eat!  Approximately ten thousand taste buds located on the surface of your tongue detect the five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.  Each taste bud contains three different types of elongated taste cells (Type I, Type II, and Type III).  Each of these sensory neurons has a different mechanism for transducing a specific taste signal to the brain.  Type I glial-like cells detect the salty taste, while Type III presynaptic cells sense the sour taste.  Type II receptor cells recognize sweet, bitter, and umami tastes by expressing different types of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs).Continue reading