The molecular basis of individual differences in phenylthiocarbamide and propylthiouracil bitterness perception

Curr Biol. 2005 Feb 22;15(4):322-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2005.01.047.


Individual differences in perception are ubiquitous within the chemical senses: taste, smell, and chemical somesthesis . A hypothesis of this fact states that polymorphisms in human sensory receptor genes could alter perception by coding for functionally distinct receptor types . We have previously reported evidence that sequence variants in a presumptive bitter receptor gene (hTAS2R38) correlate with differences in bitterness recognition of phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) . Here, we map individual psychogenomic pathways for bitter taste by testing people with a variety of psychophysical tasks and linking their individual perceptions of the compounds PTC and propylthiouracil (PROP) to the in vitro responses of their TAS2R38 receptor variants. Functional expression studies demonstrate that five different haplotypes from the hTAS2R38 gene code for operatively distinct receptors. The responses of the three haplotypes we also tested in vivo correlate strongly with individuals' psychophysical bitter sensitivities to a family of compounds. These data provide a direct molecular link between heritable variability in bitter taste perception to functional variations of a single G protein coupled receptor that responds to compounds such as PTC and PROP that contain the N-C=S moiety. The molecular mechanisms of perceived bitterness variability have therapeutic implications, such as helping patients to consume beneficial bitter-tasting compounds-for example, pharmaceuticals and selected phytochemicals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Complementary / genetics
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Least-Squares Analysis
  • Phenylthiourea*
  • Propylthiouracil*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / genetics*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Taste / physiology*


  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Complementary
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • taste receptors, type 2
  • Phenylthiourea
  • Propylthiouracil