Genomic, genetic and functional dissection of bitter taste responses to artificial sweeteners

Hum Mol Genet. 2011 Sep 1;20(17):3437-49. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddr252. Epub 2011 Jun 13.


Bitter taste perception is initiated by TAS2R receptors, which respond to agonists by triggering depolarization of taste bud cells. Mutations in TAS2Rs are known to affect taste phenotypes by altering receptor function. Evidence that TAS2Rs overlap in ligand specificity suggests that they may also contribute joint effects. To explore this aspect of gustation, we examined bitter perception of saccharin and acesulfame K, widely used artificial sweeteners with aversive aftertastes. Both substances are agonists of TAS2R31 and -43, which belong to a five-member subfamily (TAS2R30-46) responsive to a diverse constellation of compounds. We analyzed sequence variation and linkage structure in the ∼140 kb genomic region encoding TAS2R30-46, taste responses to the two sweeteners in subjects, and functional characteristics of receptor alleles. Whole-gene sequences from TAS2R30-46 in 60 Caucasian subjects revealed extensive diversity including 34 missense mutations, two nonsense mutations and high-frequency copy-number variants. Thirty markers, including non-synonymous variants in all five genes, were associated (P< 0.001) with responses to saccharin and acesulfame K. However, linkage disequilibrium (LD) in the region was high (D', r(2) > 0.95). Haplotype analyses revealed that most associations were spurious, arising from LD with variants in TAS2R31. In vitro assays confirmed the functional importance of four TAS2R31 mutations, which had independent effects on receptor response. The existence of high LD spanning functionally distinct TAS2R loci predicts that bitter taste responses to many compounds will be strongly correlated even when they are mediated by different genes. Integrative approaches combining phenotypic, genetic and functional analysis will be essential in dissecting these complex relationships.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Haplotypes
  • Humans
  • Linkage Disequilibrium
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation, Missense
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics*
  • Saccharin / pharmacology*
  • Sweetening Agents / pharmacology*
  • Taste / genetics*
  • Taste Perception / drug effects
  • Taste Perception / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Sweetening Agents
  • taste receptors, type 2
  • Saccharin