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Physiol Behav. 2003 Nov;80(2-3):289-302.

Lingual tactile acuity, taste perception, and the density and diameter of fungiform papillae in female subjects.

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Department of Prosthodontics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7450, USA.


A growing body of evidence suggests that individuals who differ in taste perception differ in lingual tactile perception. To address this issue, spatial resolution acuity was estimated for 83 young adult females (52 Asians and 31 Caucasians) by their ability to examine with the tongue and identify embossed letters of the alphabet. Ratings of the magnitude of the bitterness of 0.0032M 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) were obtained to characterize subjects' taste perception. The density and diameter of fungiform papillae on the anterior tongues of the Asian subjects were measured also. Subjects who rated the bitterness of PROP as very or intensely strong (supertasters) were found to be about 25% more tactually acute than subjects who rated the bitterness as moderate to strong (medium tasters) and twice as acute as subjects who rated it as nondetectable or weak (non-tasters; P<.0001): The threshold heights for letter recognition averaged 2.8, 3.5 and 5.4 mm, respectively, for the Asian subjects and 2.6, 3.2, and 5.1 mm for the Caucasian subjects. The thresholds correlated highly with subjects' ratings of bitterness (rho=-0.84, P<.0001), and for the Asian subjects with the density (rho=-0.84, P<.0001) and diameter (rho=0.66, P<.0001) of fungiform papillae. Mean densities varied from 54.4 cm(-2) (non-tasters) to 106.5 cm(-2) (medium tasters) to 143.7 cm(-2) (supertasters; P<.0001). These findings confirm that individuals who differ in taste (PROP) sensitivity also differ in lingual tactile acuity. Tactile and taste sensitivities covary and reflect individual differences in the density and diameter of fungiform papillae on the anterior tongue.

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