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PLoS One. 2016 Oct 6;11(10):e0164157. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0164157. eCollection 2016.

Genetic Variation in the TAS2R38 Bitter Taste Receptor and Smoking Behaviors.

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Laboratory of Communication Disorders, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.
Laboratory of Molecular Anthropology and Centre for Genome Biology, Department of Biological, Geological, and Environmental Sciences, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy.
McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, United States of America.
Health Sciences Research Institute, University of California Merced, Merced, United States of America.
Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, Emory University Woodruff Health Sciences Center, Atlanta, GA, United States of America.


Common TAS2R38 taste receptor gene variants specify the ability to taste phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) and structurally related compounds. Tobacco smoke contains a complex mixture of chemical substances of varying structure and functionality, some of which activate different taste receptors. Accordingly, it has been suggested that non-taster individuals may be more likely to smoke because of their inability to taste bitter compounds present in tobacco smoke, but results to date have been conflicting. We studied three cohorts: 237 European-Americans from the state of Georgia, 1,353 European-Americans and 2,363 African-Americans from the Dallas Heart Study (DHS), and 4,973 African-Americans from the Dallas Biobank. Tobacco use data was collected and TAS2R38 polymorphisms were genotyped for all participants, and PTC taste sensitivity was assessed in the Georgia population. In the Georgia group, PTC tasters were less common among those who smoke: 71.5% of smokers were PTC tasters while 82.5% of non-smokers were PTC tasters (P = 0.03). The frequency of the TAS2R38 PAV taster haplotype showed a trend toward being lower in smokers (38.4%) than in non-smokers (43.1%), although this was not statistically significant (P = 0.31). In the DHS European-Americans, the taster haplotype was less common in smokers (37.0% vs. 44.0% in non-smokers, P = 0.003), and conversely the frequency of the non-taster haplotype was more common in smokers (58.7% vs. 51.5% in non-smokers, P = 0.002). No difference in the frequency of these haplotypes was observed in African Americans in either the Dallas Heart Study or the Dallas Biobank. We conclude that TAS2R38 haplotypes are associated with smoking status in European-Americans but not in African-American populations. PTC taster status may play a role in protecting individuals from cigarette smoking in specific populations.

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