A Mendelian trait for olfactory sensitivity affects odor experience and food selection

Curr Biol. 2013 Aug 19;23(16):1601-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.07.030. Epub 2013 Aug 1.


Humans vary in acuity to many odors [1-4], with variation within olfactory receptor (OR) genes contributing to these differences [5-9]. How such variation also affects odor experience and food selection remains uncertain [10], given that such effects occur for taste [11-15]. Here we investigate β-ionone, which shows extreme sensitivity differences [4, 16, 17]. β-ionone is a key aroma in foods and beverages [18-21] and is added to products in order to give a pleasant floral note [22, 23]. Genome-wide and in vitro assays demonstrate rs6591536 as the causal variant for β-ionone odor sensitivity. rs6591536 encodes a N183D substitution in the second extracellular loop of OR5A1 and explains >96% of the observed phenotypic variation, resembling a monogenic Mendelian trait. Individuals carrying genotypes for β-ionone sensitivity can more easily differentiate between food and beverage stimuli with and without added β-ionone. Sensitive individuals typically describe β-ionone in foods and beverages as "fragrant" and "floral," whereas less-sensitive individuals describe these stimuli differently. rs6591536 genotype also influences emotional associations and explains differences in food and product choices. These studies demonstrate that an OR variant that influences olfactory sensitivity can affect how people experience and respond to foods, beverages, and other products.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Food
  • Food Preferences*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Norisoprenoids / metabolism*
  • Odorants / analysis*
  • Receptors, Odorant / genetics*
  • Receptors, Odorant / metabolism
  • Smell*
  • Young Adult


  • Norisoprenoids
  • Receptors, Odorant
  • beta-ionone