Specific alleles of bitter receptor genes influence human sensitivity to the bitterness of aloin and saccharin

Curr Biol. 2007 Aug 21;17(16):1403-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.07.046.


Variation in human taste is a well-known phenomenon. However, little is known about the molecular basis for it. Bitter taste in humans is believed to be mediated by a family of 25 G protein-coupled receptors (hT2Rs, or TAS2Rs). Despite recent progress in the functional expression of hT2Rs in vitro, up until now, hT2R38, a receptor for phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), was the only gene directly linked to variations in human bitter taste. Here we report that polymorphism in two hT2R genes results in different receptor activities and different taste sensitivities to three bitter molecules. The hT2R43 gene allele, which encodes a protein with tryptophan in position 35, makes people very sensitive to the bitterness of the natural plant compounds aloin and aristolochic acid. People who do not possess this allele do not taste these compounds at low concentrations. The same hT2R43 gene allele makes people more sensitive to the bitterness of an artificial sweetener, saccharin. In addition, a closely related gene's (hT2R44's) allele also makes people more sensitive to the bitterness of saccharin. We also demonstrated that some people do not possess certain hT2R genes, contributing to taste variation between individuals. Our findings thus reveal new examples of variations in human taste and provide a molecular basis for them.

MeSH terms

  • Emodin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Emodin / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Phenylthiourea / metabolism
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism*
  • Saccharin / metabolism*
  • Taste / genetics*


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • taste receptors, type 2
  • Phenylthiourea
  • Saccharin
  • Emodin
  • alloin