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Taste, smell, and chemical irritation (so-called trigeminal sensation) combine in our daily experience to produce the supramodal sensation of flavor, are processed by partly overlapping neural mechanisms, and show functional interconnectivity in experiments. Given their collaboration in flavor formation and the well-established connections between these senses, it is plausible that polymodal detection mechanisms might contribute to individual differences in measured sensitivity. One would expect the existence of a general chemosensory sensitivity factor to result in associations among taste, smell, and trigeminal stimulation thresholds. Measures of 5 detection thresholds from all the chemical senses were assessed in the same group of young healthy subjects (n=57). An unbiased principal components analysis (PCA) yielded a 2-component solution. Component 1, on which taste thresholds loaded strongly, accounted for 29.4% of the total variance. Component 2, on which the odor and trigeminal lateralization thresholds loaded strongly, accounted for 26.9% of the total variance. A subsequent PCA restricted to a 3-component solution cleanly separated the 3 sensory modalities and accounted for 75% of the total variance. Thus, though there may be a common underlying factor that determines some individual differences in odor and trigeminal lateralization thresholds, a general chemical sensitivity that spans chemosensory modalities seems unlikely.


Johan N Lundström, Amy R Gordon, Paul Wise, Johannes Frasnelli. Individual differences in the chemical senses: is there a common sensitivity? Chemical senses. 2012 May;37(4):371-8

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PMID: 22267652

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