The discovery of “taste receptors” in the lungs rather than on the tongue could point the way to new medicines for asthma.
Experiments in mice revealed that bombarding the receptors with bitter-tasting compounds helped open the airways, which could ease breathing.
The “taste receptors” discovered in the smooth muscle of the lungs are not the same as those clustered in taste buds in the mouth. They do not send signals to the brain, and yet, when exposed to bitter substances, they still respond.
Researchers assumed that the bitter substances would cause the airways to tighten and trigger coughing. However, the opposite was true. The substances opened the airway more than any other drug used to treat asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Although new treatments are a long way off, it is thought that an inhaler based on bitter substances such as quinine or saccharine, could enhance or even replace current treatment.