A bioinspired in vitro bioelectronic tongue with human T2R38 receptor for high-specificity detection of N-C=S-containing compounds

Chunlian Qin, Zhen Qin, Dongxiao Zhao, Yuxiang Pan, Liujing Zhuang, Hao Wan, Antonella Di Pizio, Einav Malach, Masha Y. Niv, Liquan Huang*, Ning Hu, Ping Wang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Detection and identification of bitter compounds draw great attention in pharmaceutical and food industry. Several well-known agonists of specific bitter taste receptors have been found to exhibit anti-cancer effects. For example, N-C=S-containing compounds, such as allyl-isothiocyanates, have shown cancer chemo-preventive effects. It is worth noting that human T2R38 receptor is specific for compounds containing N-C=S moiety. Here, a bioinspired cell-based bioelctronic tongue (BioET) is developed for the high-specificity isothiocyanate-induced bitter detection, utilizing human Caco-2 cells as a primary sensing element and interdigitated impedance sensor as a secondary transducer. As an intestinal carcinoma cell line, Caco-2 endogenously expresses human bitter receptor T2R38, and the activation of T2R38 induces the changes of cellular morphology which can be detected by electric cell-substrate impedance sensing (ECIS). After configuration and optimization of parameters including timing of compound administration and cell density, quantitative bitter evaluation models were built for two well-known bitter compounds, phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and propylthiouracil (PROP). The bitter specific detection of this BioET is inhibited by probenecid and U-73122, and is not elicited by other taste modalities or bitter ligands that do not activate T2R38. Moreover, by combining different computational tools, we designed a ligand-based virtual screening (LBVS) protocol to select ligands that are likely to activate T2R38 receptor. Three computationally predicted agonists of T2R38 were selected using the LBVS protocol, and the BioET presented response to the predicted agonists, validating the capability of the LBVS protocol. This study suggests this unique cell-based BioET paves a general and promising way to specifically detect N-C=S-containing compounds that can be used for pharmaceutical study and drug development.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)131-139
Number of pages9
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier B.V.


  • Bioinspired in vitro bioelectronic tongue
  • Caco-2 cells
  • Electric cell-substrate impedance sensing
  • Human T2R38 receptor
  • N‐C=S‐containing compounds


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