In addition to many small molecular mass sweeteners there are in nature a few sweet proteins. The molecular volume of sweet proteins is so different from that of common sweeteners that it was difficult to understand how molecules as large as proteins can activate a receptor designed to host small molecules. We have recently shown that sweet proteins can activate the sweet receptor by a mechanism of interaction, called ‘‘wedge model’’, in which proteins fit a large cavity of the receptor with wedge-shaped surfaces of their structures. In order to substantiate this model we have designed, expressed and characterized seven mutants of MNEI, a single chain monellin. Three uncharged residues of the interaction surface, Met42, Tyr63 and Tyr65, were changed either into acidic or basic residues whereas Asp68, a key acidic residue, was changed into a basic one. As a general trend, we observe that an increase of the negative charge is much more detrimental for sweetness than an increase of positive charge. In addition we show that by a careful choice of a residue at the center of the interface between MNEI and receptor, it is possible even to increase the sweetness of MNEI. These results are fully consistent with the wedge model. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved
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