Predominant Qualities Evoked by Quinine, Sucrose, and Capsaicin Associate with PROP Bitterness, but not TAS2R38 Genotype

Alissa A. Nolden, John E. McGeary, John E. Hayes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Genetic variability in the ability to taste thiourea compounds has been studied for 80+ years. Over the last 3 decades, many studies have reported perceived intensity of concentrated propylthiouracil (PROP) associates with greater intensity from a broad range of stimuli, including nonbitter tastants, irritants, and retronasally delivered odorants. Thus, PROP phenotype has become a common measure of individual differences in orosensation. Much, but not all, of the phenotypic variation in PROP bitterness is explained by TAS2R38 polymorphisms. While differences in PROP bitterness are clearly due to genetic variation, mechanistically it is challenging to envision how this receptor (narrowly tuned to the N-C=S moiety) relates to overall orosensory response. Here, we report data for 200+ individuals who had been genotyped for TAS2R38 and phenotyped for PROP in a laboratory setting. Participants also reported the intensity of quinine, capsaicin, and sucrose on a general Labeled Magnitude Scale. Our data recapitulate earlier reports associating PROP bitterness with the intensity of the predominant qualities of sucrose, quinine, and capsaicin; however, we also find correlations between the intensities of sucrose, quinine, and capsaicin were much stronger with each other than with PROP. As expected, TAS2R38 diplotype did not associate with the intensity of sucrose, quinine, or capsaicin. The strength of PROP-capsaicin and PROP-sucrose relationships increased after grouping participants by TAS2R38 diplotype, with the greatest increases in association observed within homozygotes. Collectively, this suggests the suprathreshold intensity of PROP is a confounded phenotype that captures both genetic variation specific to N-C=S compounds and overall orosensation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-390
Number of pages8
JournalChemical senses
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 29 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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