Age-related differences in bitter taste and efficacy of bitter blockers

PLoS One. 2014 Jul 22;9(7):e103107. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103107. eCollection 2014.


Background: Bitter taste is the primary culprit for rejection of pediatric liquid medications. We probed the underlying biology of bitter sensing and the efficacy of two known bitter blockers in children and adults.

Methods: A racially diverse group of 154 children (3-10 years old) and their mothers (N = 118) evaluated the effectiveness of two bitter blockers, sodium gluconate (NaG) and monosodium glutamate (MSG), for five food-grade bitter compounds (quinine, denatonium benzoate, caffeine, propylthiouracil (PROP), urea) using a forced-choice method of paired comparisons. The trial was registered at (NCT01407939).

Results: The blockers reduced bitterness in 7 of 10 bitter-blocker combinations for adults but only 3 of 10 for children, suggesting that efficacy depends on age and is also specific to each bitter-blocker combination. Only the bitterness of urea was reduced by both blockers in both age groups, whereas the bitterness of PROP was not reduced by either blocker in either age group regardless of TAS2R38 genotype. Children liked the salty taste of the blocker NaG more than did adults, but both groups liked the savory taste of MSG equally.

Conclusions and relevance: Bitter blocking was less effective in children, and the efficacy of blocking was both age and compound specific. This knowledge will pave the way for evidence-based strategies to help develop better-tasting medicines and highlights the conclusion that adult panelists and genotyping alone may not always be appropriate in evaluating the taste of a drug geared for children.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging
  • Caffeine / metabolism
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Gluconates / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Propylthiouracil / metabolism
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds / metabolism
  • Quinine / metabolism
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics
  • Sodium Glutamate / pharmacology*
  • Taste / drug effects*
  • Taste Buds / drug effects
  • Taste Buds / metabolism


  • Gluconates
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • taste receptors, type 2
  • Caffeine
  • denatonium benzoate
  • Propylthiouracil
  • Quinine
  • gluconic acid
  • Sodium Glutamate

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.1JB04