"Taste receptors" found in lung; potential breakthrough in asthma treatment

A University of Maryland study, published in Nature Magazine, has shown that bombarding taste receptors in the lungs of mice with bitter-tasting compounds opened their airways and eased breathing. These taste receptors can be found on the smooth muscle of the lungs and have a different composition from the well-known taste buds in your mouth. The most notable difference is the fact that the taste receptors in the lung do not send signals to the brain however still respond to exposure to bitter compounds. Being on the smooth muscle lining, this discovery could be a breakthrough in asthma medication and treatment which is focused on opening the contracted muscle lining. Lead researcher, Dr. Stephen Liggett believes that an inhaler based on bitter substances such as quinine or saccharine could "replace or enhance" current treatment "more profoundly than any known drug that we have." However, simply eating bitter foods does not yield the same results not prevent people from asthma attacks.

Dr. Yassine Amrani from the University of Leicester was pleased by the study and believes the next step is to reproduce the effect in humans and prevent any unwanted side effects such as inflammation.

The concept of having bitter taste receptors in the smooth muscle of the airways is a new one, and activating this receptor could offer a new way to relax them. -- Dr. Yassine Amrani, University of Leicester
Asthma UK was quick to announce that new drugs based on this research would not hit the market for many years however is very excited by the prospects of the asthma treatments. Leanne Metcalf, the director of research at Asthma UK felt that research into new treatments was "vital" as the millions of current asthmatics still have trouble controlling their symptoms using existing drugs.
The effectiveness of bitter substances at overcoming the airway narrowing that causes asthma symptoms has so far only been tested in mice, however this somewhat surprising approach does make sense in terms of what we already know about the cell signalling processes involved in asthma... with further in-depth research, this approach could potentially pave the way for a new range of asthma treatments based on bitter substances which could either supplement or replace existing asthma treatments but if this were possible, it would be a long way into the future. -- Leanne Metcalf, director of research at Asthma UK
Source: BBC Health

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