Covariation in individuals' sensitivities to bitter compounds: evidence supporting multiple receptor/transduction mechanisms

Percept Psychophys. 2001 Jul;63(5):761-76. doi: 10.3758/bf03194436.


People vary widely in their sensitivities to bitter compounds, but the intercorrelation of these sensitivities is unknown. Our goal was to investigate correlations as a function of individual sensitivities to several bitter compounds representative of different chemical classes and, from these correlations, infer the number and variety of potential bitterness transduction systems for these compounds. Twenty-six subjects rated and ranked quinine HCl, caffeine, (-)-epicatechin, tetralone, L-phenylalanine, L-tryptophan, magnesium sulfate, urea, sucrose octaacetate (SOA), denatonium benzoate, and n-propylthiouracil (PROP) for bitterness. By examining individual differences, ratings and rankings could be grouped into two general clusters--urea/phenylalanine/tryptophan/epicatechin, and quinine/caffeine/SOA/denatonium benzoate/tetralone/magnesium sulfate-none of which contained PROP. When subjects were grouped into the extremes of sensitivity to PROP, a significant difference was found in the bitterness ratings, but not in the rankings. Therefore, there are also subjects who possess diminished absolute sensitivity to bitter stimuli but do not differ from other subjects in their relative sensitivities to these compounds.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Male
  • Propylthiouracil
  • Reference Standards
  • Reference Values
  • Taste Buds / physiology*
  • Taste Threshold / physiology*


  • Propylthiouracil