The taste of monosodium glutamate (MSG), L-aspartic acid, and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) in rats: Are NMDA receptors involved in MSG taste?

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Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is believed to elicit a unique taste perception known as umami. We have used conditioned taste aversion assays in rats to compare taste responses elicited by the glutamate receptor agonists MSG, L-aspartic acid (L-Asp), and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), and to determine if these compounds share a common taste quality. This information could shed new light upon the receptor mechanisms of glutamate taste transduction. Taste aversions to either MSG, L-Asp or NMDA were produced by injecting rats with LiCl after they had ingested one of these stimuli. Subsequently, rats were tested to determine whether they would ingest any of the above compounds. The results clearly show that a conditioned aversion to MSG generalized to L-Asp in a dose-dependent manner. Conversely, rats conditioned to avoid L-Asp also avoided MSG. Conditioned aversions to MSG or L-Asp generalized to sucrose when amiloride was included in all solutions. Importantly aversions to MSC or L-Asp did not generalize to NMDA, NaCl or KCl, and aversions to NMDA did not generalize to MSG, L-Asp, sucrose or KCl. These data indicate that rats perceive MSG and L-Asp as similar tastes, whereas NMDA, NaCl and KCl elicit other tastes. The results do not support a dominant role for the NMDA subtype of glutamate receptors in taste transduction for MSG (i.e. umami) in rats.

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