Bivariate genome-wide association analysis strengthens the role of bitter receptor clusters on chromosomes 7 and 12 in human bitter taste

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Human perception of bitter substances is partially genetically determined. Previously we discovered a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) within the cluster of bitter taste receptor genes on chromosome 12 that accounts for 5.8% of the variance in the perceived intensity rating of quinine, and we strengthened the classic association between TAS2R38 genotype and the bitterness of propylthiouracil (PROP). Here we performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) using a 40% larger sample (n = 1999) together with a bivariate approach to detect previously unidentified common variants with small effects on bitter perception. We identified two signals, both with small effects (< 2%), within the bitter taste receptor clusters on chromosomes 7 and 12, which influence the perceived bitterness of denatonium benzoate and sucrose octaacetate respectively. We also provided the first independent replication for an association of caffeine bitterness on chromosome 12. Furthermore, we provided evidence for pleiotropic effects on quinine, caffeine, sucrose octaacetate and denatonium benzoate for the three SNPs on chromosome 12 and the functional importance of the SNPs for denatonium benzoate bitterness. These findings provide new insights into the genetic architecture of bitter taste and offer a useful starting point for determining the biological pathways linking perception of bitter substances.

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