Associations between taste genetics, oral sensation and alcohol intake

Physiol Behav. 2004 Sep 15;82(2-3):435-45. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2004.04.060.


Alcohol produces a range of oral sensations, some of which have been shown to vary with the perceived bitterness of 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP), one marker for genetic variation in taste. Some studies report that offspring of alcoholics are most likely to be PROP nontasters [Physiol. Behav. 51 (1992) 1261; Physiol. Behav. 64 (1998) 147], yet others report the offspring as more responsive to sodium chloride (NaCl) and citric acid, which appears to contradict the taste genetic hypothesis. We predicted alcohol sensation and intake from measures of taste genetics (PROP bitterness and number of fungiform papilla), NaCl and citric acid intensity, and spatial taste pattern in 40 females and 43 males. Subjects used the general Labeled Magnitude Scale (gLMS) [Chem. Senses 18 (1993) 683; J. Food Qual. Pref. 14 (2002) 125] as an intensity and hedonic scale. Those who tasted PROP as most bitter or had highest numbers of fungiform papilla reported greatest oral burn from an alcohol probe; those who tasted least PROP bitterness consumed alcoholic beverages most frequently. Although higher NaCl and citric acid ratings associated with more frequent consumption of alcoholic beverages, the findings could be explained by lower intensity of tastants on the tongue tip (chorda tympani nerve) relative to whole mouth perception. In multiple regression analyses, PROP bitterness and the spatial pattern of taste perception were independent contributors to the prediction of alcohol intake. In summary, the results support that variation in oral sensation associates with alcohol intake. Those who taste PROP as least bitter and have low chorda tympani relative to whole mouth taste intensity appear to have fewest oral sensory hindrances to the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / genetics*
  • Alcohol Drinking / physiopathology
  • Chorda Tympani Nerve / physiology
  • Citric Acid
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / physiology*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Propylthiouracil
  • Sensation / genetics*
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Taste / genetics*
  • Taste / physiology
  • Taste Buds / anatomy & histology
  • Taste Buds / physiology
  • Tongue / anatomy & histology
  • Tongue / innervation
  • Tongue / physiology


  • Citric Acid
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Propylthiouracil