Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lungs have taste buds, scientists find

Scientists have discovered that lungs can taste which may lead to new treatments for asthma.

Human lungs can detect bitter tastes in the same way as the tongue can and respond to the sensation in a particular way.

The team from University of Maryland School of Medicine found that contrary to what they thought would happen, the airways in the lungs opened in response to a bitter taste.

Senior author Dr Stephen Liggett said: “I initially thoguht the bitter-taste receptors in the lungs would prompt a ‘fight or flight’ response to a noxious inhaleant causing chest tightness and coughing so you would leave the toxic environment but that’s not what we found.

It turns out that the bitter compounds worke the opposite way from what we thought. They all opned the airway more profoundly than any known drug that we have for treatment of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“This could replace or enhance what is now in use and represents a completely new approach.”
The team tested bitter substances on human and mouse airways and published the results in Nature Medicine.
Quinine and chloroquinine, normally used to combat malaria, were used as they taste bitter along with the artificial sweetner saccharin, which has a bitter aftertaste.

Dr Liggett said: “Based on our research we think that the best drugs wold be chemical modifications of bitter compounds which would be aerosolised and then inhaled into the lungs in an inhaler.”

The discovery was made by accident when the team were studying muscle receptors that cause contraction and relaxation in the lungs.

It is thought that the bitter substances affect how calcium controls muscles.


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