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Concept: Supertaster


Understanding the influence of taste perception on food choice has captured the interest of academics, industry, and the general public, the latter as evidenced by the extent of popular media coverage and use of the term supertaster. Supertasters are highly sensitive to the bitter tastant propylthiouracil (PROP) and its chemical relative phenylthiocarbamide. The well-researched differences in taste sensitivity to these bitter chemicals are partially controlled by variation in the TAS2R38 gene; however, this variation alone does not explain the supertaster phenomenon. It has been suggested that density of papillae, which house taste buds, may explain supertasting. To address the unresolved role of papillae, we used crowdsourcing in the museum-based Genetics of Taste Lab. This community lab is uniquely situated to attract both a large population of human subjects and host a team of citizen scientists to research population-based questions about human genetics, taste, and health. Using this model, we find that PROP bitterness is not in any way predicted by papillae density. This result holds within the whole sample, when divided into major diplotypes, and when correcting for age, sex, and genotype. Furthermore, it holds when dividing participants into oft-used taster status groups. These data argue against the use of papillae density in predicting taste sensitivity and caution against imprecise use of the term supertaster. Furthermore, it supports a growing volume of evidence that sets the stage for hypergeusia, a reconceptualization of heightened oral sensitivity that is not based solely on PROP or papillae density. Finally, our model demonstrates how community-based research can serve as a unique venue for both study participation and citizen science that makes scientific research accessible and relevant to people’s everyday lives.

Concepts: Scientific method, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Prediction, Taste, Taste bud, Supertaster


BACKGROUND: We recently demonstrated the bitter taste receptor T2R38 upregulates sinonasal mucosal innate defense in response to gram-negative quorum-sensing molecules through increased nitric oxide production and mucociliary clearance. T2R38 was initially identified in the quest to understand the variability in bitter taste perception to the compound phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and demonstrated to have polymorphisms generating diplotypes dividing people into PTC supertasters, heterozygotes (with variable PTC detection), and nontasters. We have further demonstrated that sinonasal epithelial cultures derived from supertasters significantly increase innate defenses in response to gram-negative quorum-sensing molecules compared with sinonasal cultures derived from heterozygotes and nontaster individuals. Based on this data, we hypothesize that supertasters are less likely to require sinus surgery compared with heterozygous or nontasters and that supertasters have improved surgical outcomes. METHODS: Banked sinonasal tissue samples from patients who had undergone primary functional endoscopic sinus surgery at the University of Pennsylvania or the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center were genotyped for T2R38 and compared to the expected population distribution. Necessity for additional antibiotic therapy following the postoperative healing time frame was evaluated. RESULTS: A total of 28 patients were included in the study. Only 1 supertaster was identified (expected 5.6, p < 0.043). Additionally, 14 heterozygous and 13 nontaster patients were identified. CONCLUSION: This pilot study investigating the genetics of the bitter taste receptor T2R38 in the context of primary sinonasal surgery demonstrates supertaster patients are less likely to need surgical intervention for chronic rhinosinusitis. Additional study is necessary to ascertain postsurgical outcomes.

Concepts: Surgery, Sinusitis, Taste, Nitric oxide, Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery, Supertaster, Phenylthiocarbamide, TAS2R38


Research suggests a weaker sense of taste in people with obesity, with the assumption that this debilitated taste response increases the desire for more intensely tasting stimuli to compensate for decreased taste input. However, empirical testing of this supposition remains largely absent.

Concepts: Sensory system, Sense, Olfaction, Taste, Empirical research, Assumption of Mary, Ageusia, Supertaster


Taste is one of the main factors determining food choices. Differences in PROP bitter taste perception have been implicated in individual differences in food preferences and selection. The present study examined associations between, PROP phenotypes, self-reported food liking and TAS2R38 polymorphisms, the major gene implicated in PROP bitterness, in six different populations of the Caucasus and Central Asia, located along the ancient Silk Road. Differences in the distribution of PROP phenotypes across populations were detected, with a higher frequency of super tasters in Tajikistan (31.3%) and Armenia (39.0%) and a higher frequency of non tasters in Georgia (50.9%). While no relationships were observed between PROP phenotypes and food liking using standard statistical tests, we used an approach based on comparison of distance matrices derived from these data. The first matrix compared the food liking ratings of each population to all others pairwise using the Kruskal-Wallis test (at p<0.00063), and the second one compared the distribution of PROP phenotypes across all populations in a similar manner calculating the chi-square statistic as a distance measure. A strong correlation between the two matrices was found (Mantel test: r = 0.67, p-value = 0.03), suggesting that the pattern of food liking across populations was closely related to the distribution of PROP phenotypes. This same relationship was not observed when TAS2R38 genotypes were substituted for PROP phenotypes in this analysis. Our data suggest that a population-based approach utilizing distance matrices is a useful technique for detecting PROP-related differences in food liking and can be applied to other taste phenotypes.

Concepts: Statistical tests, Statistics, Non-parametric statistics, Taste, Iran, Central Asia, Silk Road, Supertaster


Oral sensitivity to fats varies in individuals influencing nutritional status and health. Variations in oleic acid perception are associated with CD36 and odorant binding protein (OBPIIa) polymorphisms, and 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) sensitivity, which is mediated by TAS2R38 receptor. L-Arginine (L-Arg) supplementation was shown to modify the perception of the five taste qualities. Here we analyzed the effect of three concentrations (5, 10, 15 mmol/L) of L-Arg on oral perception of oleic acid in forty-six subjects classified for PROP taster status and genotyped for TAS2R38, CD36 and OBPIIa polymorphisms. L-Arg supplementation was effective in increasing the perceived intensity of oleic acid in most subjects. The lowest concentration was the most effective, especially in PROP non-tasters or medium tasters, and in subjects with at least an allele A in CD36 and OBPIIa loci. Density Functional Theory (DFT) calculations were exploited to characterize the chemical interaction between L-Arg and oleic acid, showing that a stable 1:1 oleate·ArgH+ adduct can be formed, stabilized by a pair of hydrogen bonds. Results indicate that L-Arg, acting as a ‘carrier’ of fatty acids in saliva, can selectively modify taste response, and suggest that it may to be used in personalized dietetic strategies to optimize eating behaviors and health.

Concepts: Protein, Nutrition, Fatty acid, Sense, Density functional theory, Taste, Oleic acid, Supertaster


Thermal tasters (TTs) perceive thermally induced taste (thermal taste) sensations when the tongue is stimulated with temperature in the absence of gustatory stimuli, while thermal non tasters (TnTs) only perceive temperature. This is the first study to explore detailed differences in thermal taste responses across TTs. Using thermal taster status phenotyping, 37 TTs were recruited, and the temporal characteristics of thermal taste responses collected during repeat exposure to temperature stimulation. Phenotyping found sweet most frequently reported during warming stimulation, and bitter and sour when cooling, but a range of other sensations were stated. The taste quality, intensity, and number of tastes reported greatly varied. Furthermore, the temperature range when thermal taste was perceived differed across TTs and taste qualities, with some TTs perceiving a taste for a small temperature range, and others the whole trial. The onset of thermal sweet taste ranged between 22 and 38°C during temperature increase. This supports the hypothesis that TRPM5 may be involved in thermal sweet taste perception as TRPM5 is temperature activated between 15 and 35°C, and involved in sweet taste transduction. These findings also raised questions concerning the phenotyping protocol and classification currently used, thus indicating the need to review practices for future testing. This study has highlighted the hitherto unknown variation that exists in thermal taste response across TTs, provides some insights into possible mechanisms, and importantly emphasises the need for more research into this sensory phenomenon.

Concepts: Temperature, Perception, Sense, Mind, Taste, Philosophy of perception, Gustatory system, Supertaster


Animals must detect aversive compounds to survive. Bitter taste neurons express heterogeneous combinations of bitter receptors that diversify their response profiles, but this remains poorly understood. Here we describe groups of taste neurons in Drosophila that detect the same bitter compounds using unique combinations of gustatory receptors (GRs). These distinct complexes also confer responsiveness to non-overlapping sets of additional compounds. While either GR32a/GR59c/GR66a or GR22e/GR32a/GR66a heteromultimers are sufficient for lobeline, berberine, and denatonium detection, only GR22e/GR32a/GR66a responds to strychnine. Thus, despite minimal sequence-similarity, Gr22e and Gr59c show considerable but incomplete functional overlap. Since the gain- or loss-of-function of Gr22e or Gr59c alters bitter taste response profiles, we conclude a taste neuron’s specific combination of Grs determines its response profile. We suspect the heterogeneity of Gr expression in Drosophila taste neurons diversifies bitter compound detection, improving animal fitness under changing environmental conditions that present a variety of aversive compounds.

Concepts: Nervous system, Sensory system, Taste, Serotonin, Metabotropic receptor, Glycine receptor, Gustatory system, Supertaster


Taste blindness to 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) associates with increased fat preference and intake. No studies have matched a diet to a woman’s PROP phenotype to improve weight loss. This study investigated (1) whether PROP nontaster (NT) women would lose more weight following a low-carbohydrate (LC) diet than a low-fat (LF) diet, and (2) whether PROP supertaster (ST) women would lose more weight following a LF diet than a LC diet.

Concepts: Nutrition, Obesity, Randomized controlled trial, Adipose tissue, Woman, Dieting, Diet food, Supertaster


The goal of this work is to develop an automatic system for the evaluation of the gustatory sensitivity of patients using an electrophysiological recording of the response of bud cells to taste stimuli. In particular, the study aims to evaluate the effectiveness and limitations of supervised classifiers in the discrimination between subjects belonging to the three 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) taster categories (supertasters, medium tasters, and non-tasters), exploiting features extracted from electrophysiological recordings of the tongue. Thirty-nine subjects (equally divided into the three PROP status classes by standard non-objective scaling methods) underwent a non-invasive, differential, biopotential recording of their tongues during stimulation with PROP by using a custom-made, flexible, silver electrode. Two different classifiers were trained to recognize up to seven different features extracted from the recorded depolarization signal. The classification results indicate that the identified set of features allows to distinguish between PROP tasters and non-tasters (average accuracy of 80% ± 18% and up to 94% ± 15% when only supertasters and non-tasters are considered), but medium tasters were difficult to identify. However, these apparent classification errors are related to uncertainty in the labeling procedures, which are based on non-objective tests, in which the subjects provided borderline evaluations. Thus, using the proposed method, it is possible, for the first time, to automatically achieve objective PROP taster status identification with high accuracy. The simplicity of the recording technique allows for easy reproduction of the experimental setting; thus the technique can be used in future studies to evaluate other gustatory stimuli. The proposed approach represents the first objective and automatic method to directly measure human gustatory responses and a milestone for physiological taste studies, with applications ranging from basic science to food tasting evaluations.

Concepts: Evaluation, Sense, Recording, Taste, Tongue, Media technology, Gustatory system, Supertaster


Polymorphisms in bitter taste receptor gene TAS2R38 alter the ability to sense the intensity of bitterness of phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP). Genetic variation in sensitivity towards PTC and PROP may affect food preferences and susceptibility to certain diseases. This is the first study aimed at investigating frequency and distribution of TAS2R38 haplotypes in an Indian cohort. Additionally, we studied the association of TAS2R38 and PROP taster status with BMI and food preference. Three hundred and ninety three healthy adults who were 19-55years of age were selected as a convenience sample from 4 geographical regions of India. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of TAS2R38 (rs713598, s1726866 and rs10246939) were analyzed using polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism. The prevalence of PAV/PAV diplotype was 9.9% and that of AVI/AVI diplotype was 43.76% among this Indian population. PROP status was determined on the basis of its threshold concentration of detecting bitterness, as evaluated by one-solution test. The PROP status revealed 25.95% supertasters, 32.06% medium tasters and 41.98% non-tasters (NT). BMI neither significantly (p>0.05) correlated with TAS2R38 genotypes nor with PROP taster status. Food preferences did not significantly (p>0.05) correlate with TAS2R38 diplotypes or PROP phenotypes.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Body mass index, Taste, Population genetics, Supertaster