Sequence Variants in TAAR5 and Other Loci Affect Human Odor Perception and Naming

Curr Biol. 2020 Dec 7;30(23):4643-4653.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.09.012. Epub 2020 Oct 8.


Olfactory receptor (OR) genes in humans form a special class characterized by unusually high DNA sequence diversity, which should give rise to differences in perception and behavior. In the largest genome-wide association study to date based on olfactory testing, we investigated odor perception and naming with smell tasks performed by 9,122 Icelanders, with replication in a separate sample of 2,204 individuals. We discovered an association between a low-frequency missense variant in TAAR5 and reduced intensity rating of fish odor containing trimethylamine (p.Ser95Pro, pcombined = 5.6 × 10-15). We demonstrate that TAAR5 genotype affects aversion to fish odor, reflected by linguistic descriptions of the odor and pleasantness ratings. We also discovered common sequence variants in two canonical olfactory receptor loci that associate with increased intensity and naming of licorice odor (trans-anethole: lead variant p.Lys233Asn in OR6C70, pcombined = 8.8 × 10-16 and pcombined = 1.4 × 10-9) and enhanced naming of cinnamon (trans-cinnamaldehyde; intergenic variant rs317787-T, pcombined = 5.0 × 10-17). Together, our results show that TAAR5 genotype variation influences human odor responses and highlight that sequence diversity in canonical OR genes can lead to enhanced olfactory ability, in contrast to the view that greater tolerance for mutations in the human OR repertoire leads to diminished function.

Keywords: Olfaction; TAAR5; genome-wide association study; odor naming; odor perception; olfactory language; trans-anethole; trans-cinnamaldehyde; trimethylamine.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Allylbenzene Derivatives / chemistry
  • Anisoles / chemistry
  • Cinnamomum zeylanicum / chemistry
  • Female
  • Genetic Loci
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Glycyrrhiza / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Iceland
  • Male
  • Methylamines / chemistry
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation, Missense
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Perception / genetics*
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / metabolism*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism
  • Smell / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • Allylbenzene Derivatives
  • Anisoles
  • Methylamines
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • TAAR5 protein, human
  • trimethylamine
  • anethole