New insight into human sweet taste: a genome-wide association study of the perception and intake of sweet substances

Liang Dar Hwang*, Cailu Lin, Puya Gharahkhani, Gabriel Cuellar-Partida, Jue Sheng Ong, Jiyuan An, Scott D. Gordon, Gu Zhu, Stuart Macgregor, Deborah A. Lawlor, Paul A.S. Breslin, Margaret J. Wright, Nicholas G. Martin, Danielle R. Reed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Individual differences in human perception of sweetness are partly due to genetics; however, which genes are associated with the perception and the consumption of sweet substances remains unclear.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to verify previous reported associations within genes involved in the peripheral receptor systems (i.e., TAS1R2, TAS1R3, and GNAT3) and reveal novel loci.

METHODS: We performed genome-wide association scans (GWASs) of the perceived intensity of 2 sugars (glucose and fructose) and 2 high-potency sweeteners (neohesperidin dihydrochalcone and aspartame) in an Australian adolescent twin sample (n = 1757), and the perceived intensity and sweetness and the liking of sucrose in a US adult twin sample (n = 686). We further performed GWASs of the intake of total sugars (i.e., total grams of all dietary mono- and disaccharides per day) and sweets (i.e., handfuls of candies per day) in the UK Biobank sample (n = ≤174,424 white-British individuals). All participants from the 3 independent samples were of European ancestry.

RESULTS: We found a strong association between the intake of total sugars and the single nucleotide polymorphism rs11642841 within the FTO gene on chromosome 16 (P = 3.8 × 10-8) and many suggestive associations (P < 1.0 × 10-5) for each of the sweet perception and intake phenotypes. We showed genetic evidence for the involvement of the brain in both sweet taste perception and sugar intake. There was limited support for the associations with TAS1R2, TAS1R3, and GNAT3 in all 3 European samples.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings indicate that genes additional to those involved in the peripheral receptor system are also associated with the sweet taste perception and intake of sweet-tasting foods. The functional potency of the genetic variants within TAS1R2, TAS1R3, and GNAT3 may be different between ethnic groups and this warrants further investigations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1724-1737
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number6
Early online date21 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright © American Society for Nutrition 2019.


  • BMI
  • FTO
  • Genome-Wide Association Scan
  • Perception
  • Preference
  • Sugar Intake
  • Sweet Taste
  • Taste Receptor

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