Supertasting, earaches and head injury: genetics and pathology alter our taste worlds

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1996;20(1):79-87. doi: 10.1016/0149-7634(95)00042-d.


Family studies using thresholds showed that PROP (6-n-propylthiouracil) tasting is produced by a dominant allele, T. Nontasters have two recessive alleles and tasters have one or two dominant alleles. The bitterness of suprathreshold PROP and anatomical criteria subdivide tasters into medium and supertasters. Supertasters may be TT tasters, but this has yet to be demonstrated. Supertasters preceive the greatest bitterness and sweetness from many stimuli as well as the greatest oral burn from alcohol and capsaicin. Women are more likely than men to be supertasters. Otitis media and head trauma can alter taste and thus PROP classifications, complicating studies on PROP genetics. Some subjects with a history of otitis media show taste reductions, but others show enhanced tastes and appear to have more taste buds per fungiform papilla. Subjects with head trauma show reduced tastes on some oral loci, but there is evidence that severe reductions on the front of the tongue ameliorate reductions at the circumvallate papillae on the back of the tongue by a release of inhibition mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Injuries / pathology*
  • Earache / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Otitis Media / pathology
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Taste / genetics*
  • Taste / physiology*