Twin Research and Human Genetics


A Common Genetic Influence on Human Intensity Ratings of Sugars and High-Potency Sweeteners

Liang-Dar Hwanga1a2 c1, Gu Zhua1, Paul A. S. Breslina3a4, Danielle R. Reeda3, Nicholas G. Martina1 and Margaret J. Wrighta1

a1 QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

a2 School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

a3 Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

a4 Department of Nutritional Sciences, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA


The perception of sweetness varies among individuals but the sources of this variation are not fully understood. Here, in a sample of 1,901 adolescent and young adults (53.8% female; 243 MZ and 452 DZ twin pairs, 511 unpaired individuals; mean age 16.2 ± 2.8, range 12–26 years), we studied the variation in the perception of sweetness intensity of two monosaccharides and two high-potency sweeteners: glucose, fructose, neohesperidine dihydrochalcone (NHDC), and aspartame. Perceived intensity for all sweeteners decreased with age (2–5% per year) and increased with the history of otitis media (6–9%). Males rated aspartame slightly stronger than females (7%). We found similar heritabilities for sugars (glucose: h2 = 0.31, fructose: h2 = 0.34) and high-potency sweeteners (NHDC: h2 = 0.31, aspartame: h2 = 0.30); all were in the modest range. Multivariate modeling showed that a common genetic factor accounted for >75% of the genetic variance in the four sweeteners, suggesting that individual differences in perceived sweet intensity, which are partly due to genetic factors, may be attributed to a single set of genes. This study provided evidence of the shared genetic pathways between the perception of sugars and high-potency sweeteners.

(Received May 15 2015)

(Accepted May 20 2015)


  • sweet taste;
  • sweet intensity;
  • perception;
  • high-potency sweeteners;
  • heritability;
  • twins


c1 address for correspondence: Liang-Dar Hwang, Neuroimaging Genetics Group, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Herston QLD 4006, Australia. E-mail: