In a discovery that could potentially transform asthma treatment, researchers from Maryland have found our lungs carry receptors for bitter tastes.
The study, just published in Nature Medicine, found that receptors in the lung are the same as those that cluster together as taste-buds on our tongue. In experiments using human and mouse lung tissue and mice with asthma, they found stimulating these receptors in the lungs with bitter substances opened the airway more extensively than any known drug currently available for the treatment of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
These results came as a surprise to the scientists, who had expected bitter substances to constrict the airways rather than open them.
“I initially thought the bitter-taste receptors in the lungs would prompt a ‘fight or flight’ response to a noxious inhalant, causing chest tightness and coughing so you would leave the toxic environment, but that’s not what we found,” said lead researcher Dr Stephen Liggett.
In their experiments, the researchers tested bitter compounds such as quinine and chloroquine substances commonly used to treat malaria. However, there are thousands of other non-toxic, bitter compounds that are known to activate these receptors including natural plant substances and some synthetic agents.
Sadly for the campari, citrus and bitter chocolate lovers among us, the researchers did not find any link between eating bitter foods and improved breathing. “Based on our research, we think that the best drugs would be chemical modifications of bitter compounds, which would be aerosolized and then inhaled into the lungs with an inhaler,” Liggett said.
Even then, inhaled therapies may not be available for years.
SRxA’s Word on Health will continue to follow this story and bring you all the latest developments. In the meantime, if you want to spread the word about currently approved asthma treatments, please contact us to learn more about how our world class teams of Clinical Advisors can help.