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Genetic Factors in Taste Perception and Tobacco Usage

Principal Investigator: Dennis Drayna

Funding Mechanism: National Institutes of Health-Intramural

ID number: 252311

Award Date: 10/1/2012

Institution: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)


The importance of taste in tobacco product use is underscored by the widespread addition of flavorings to tobacco products. Added flavorings – including various sweeteners, fruit flavors, and menthol – improve product taste while masking the unpleasant flavor of nicotine and other bitter substances present in tobacco. Understanding genetic differences in taste perceptions in the context of tobacco use could help inform the development of more effective tobacco control campaigns targeted toward specific racial/ethnic population groups. To investigate the role of inherited differences in taste perceptions in tobacco use, researchers will catalog and quantify genetic variations in taste perceptions and then measure the association between these variations and tobacco use. Using DNA samples provided by the Dallas Heart Study (DHS) – a comprehensive multi-year study of cardiovascular health involving 4,700 subjects (including approximately 2,300 African Americans, 1,600 Caucasians and 800 Latinos) – the investigators will analyze 36 genes that encode a variety of taste perceptions, including menthol, bitter, sweet and savory, sour, and burning tastes. Study aims are: (1) to ascertain and characterize naturally occurring genetic variations in taste perceptions; (2) to use detailed genetic analysis and modeling techniques and tools to describe variations in taste perception characteristics (i.e., mutation properties, functional predictions, genomic architecture, and population distribution); and (3) to test the association between variants in taste perception and other genes and tobacco use using data from the Dallas Heart Study population. By analyzing variation in a broad array of genes involved in taste perception, this study will separate genetic variation in taste perceptions – much of which is specific to particular human racial populations – from other factors that affect tobacco use.

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