At the Root of T2R Gene Evolution: Recognition Profiles of Coelacanth and Zebrafish Bitter Receptors

Maik Behrens, Antonella Di Pizio, Ulrike Redel, Wolfgang Meyerhof, Sigrun I. Korsching

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The careful evaluation of food is important for survival throughout the animal kingdom, and specialized chemoreceptors have evolved to recognize nutrients, minerals, acids, and many toxins. Vertebrate bitter taste, mediated by the taste receptor type 2 (T2R) family, warns against potentially toxic compounds. During evolution T2R receptors appear first in bony fish, but the functional properties of bony fish T2R receptors are mostly unknown. We performed a phylogenetic analysis showing the “living fossil” coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) and zebrafish (Danio rerio) to possess T2R repertoires typical for early-diverged species in the lobe-finned and the ray-finned clade, respectively. Receptors from these two species were selected for heterologous expression assays using a diverse panel of bitter substances. Remarkably, the ligand profile of the most basal coelacanth receptor, T2R01, is identical to that of its ortholog in zebrafish, consistent with functional conservation across >400 Myr of separate evolution. The second coelacanth receptor deorphaned, T2R02, is activated by steroid hormones and bile acids, evolutionary old molecules that are potentially endogenously synthesized agonists for extraoral T2Rs. For zebrafish, we report the presence of both specialized and promiscuous T2R receptors. Moreover, we identified an antagonist for one of the zebrafish receptors suggesting that bitter antagonism contributed to shape this receptor family throughout evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberevaa264
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • bitter taste receptor
  • bony fish
  • calcium mobilization assay


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