Relationship of Phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) Taster Status to Olfactory and Gustatory Function in Patients with Chemosensory Disturbances


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Abstract

Poor sensitivity to the bitter taste of phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and related substances has been associated with a number of diseases. We determined, in patients with chemosensory dysfunction from multiple etiologies, whether PTC “tasters” (n = 511) exhibit less smell and taste dysfunction than their non-PTC-tasting counterparts (n = 432) on a comprehensive battery of olfactory and gustatory tests. The proportion of tasters (54%) in our study population was much lower than that calculated from 11 North American population studies (76.5%; P < 0.0001). This taster/nontaster ratio was maintained across a range of etiologic categories. More women (60.7%) than men (45.5%) were PTC tasters (P < 0.0001). Although PTC tasting status was unrelated to scores on the olfactory tests (which included tests of odor identification, detection threshold, and odor memory/discrimination), tasters significantly outperformed nontasters on suprathreshold identification and intensity taste tests employing both bitter (caffeine) and nonbitter (sucrose, citric acid, sodium chloride) tasting stimuli. Regardless of PTC taster status, women outperformed men on the taste tests. Our findings suggest the possibility that the T2R38 gene may protect against significant olfactory dysfunction, but once such dysfunction becomes manifest at a level where professional help is sought, such protection is not evident. However, other hypotheses for this phenomenon are possible. This study demonstrates that patients with chemosensory disturbances who are PTC tasters outperform their non-PTC taster counterparts in both identifying and perceiving the intensity of a range of suprathreshold tastants, including ones that do not taste bitter.

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