Chemosensory systems are critical for evaluating the caloric value and potential toxicity of food prior to ingestion. While animals can discriminate between 1000s of odors, much less is known about the discriminative capabilities of taste systems. Fats and sugars represent calorically potent and innately attractive food sources that contribute to hedonic feeding. Despite the differences in nutritional value between fats and sugars, the ability of the taste system to discriminate between different rewarding tastants is thought to be limited. In
Drosophila, sweet taste neurons expressing the Ionotropic Receptor 56d ( IR56d) are required for reflexive behavioral responses to the medium-chain fatty acid, hexanoic acid. Further, we have found that flies can discriminate between a fatty acid and a sugar in aversive memory assays, establishing a foundation to investigate the capacity of the Drosophilagustatory system to differentiate between various appetitive tastants. Here, we tested whether flies can discriminate between different classes of fatty acids using an aversive memory assay. Our results indicate that flies are able to discriminate medium-chain fatty acids from both short- and long-chain fatty acids, but not from other medium-chain fatty acids. Characterization of hexanoic acid-sensitive Ionotropic receptor 56d(Ir56d) neurons reveals broad responsive to short-, medium-, and long-chain fatty acids, suggesting selectivity is unlikely to occur through activation of distinct sensory neuron populations. However, genetic deletion of IR56dselectively disrupts response to medium chain fatty acids, but not short and long chain fatty acids. These findings reveal Ir56d is selectively required for fatty acid taste, and discrimination of fatty acids occurs through differential receptor activation within shared populations of neurons. These findings uncover a capacity for the taste system to encode tastant identity within a taste category.