New hope for asthma patients? Scientists have discovered taste cells in the lungs that can perceive bitter substances. This could open up new treatment options.
Scientists from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have discovered recipient cells that can perceive bitter substances in the smooth muscles of the bronchi. Although these are not grouped into taste buds as in the mouth and do not pass on their information to the brain, they clearly react to bitter substances. This opens up new possibilities in the treatment of asthma, as the research team led by Stephen Liggett hopes.
Lung tissue can “taste”. The researchers came across the results now published in the current issue of the journal “Nature Medicine” by chance during a very general examination of receptors of the smooth bronchial muscles. Stephen Liggett was also astonished at the first results from the study of mice: "The fact that we discovered functional taste receptors came so unexpectedly that we were initially rather skeptical ourselves". In the meantime, the team has also detected corresponding lung tissue that is able to "taste" in humans, according to the authors in the "Nature Medicine" article. In contrast to their siblings on the tongue, the taste cells of the lungs apparently do not report any information to the brain, but rather influence the muscles to control breathing.
Bitter substances relax the respiratory tract However, the bitter taste does not seem to be a warning signal for the body, as with bitter taste in the mouth, but the bronchi relax and expand. Since many plant poisons taste bitter, a corresponding taste in the mouth is usually a sign of danger for herbivores, the scientists explained. They were of the opinion that the reaction of the lung receptors must also be a kind of protective mechanism that encourages coughing and warns of polluted air. Examination of the function of the sensory cells in healthy people, mice with and without asthma and isolated receptor cells, however, had shown that bitter substances clearly relax the airways.
The bitter substances were more effective than any previously known drug.
New treatment options for asthma Based on the findings, there is hope for new treatment options for asthmatics and other lung patients, the scientists say. The contraction of the muscles that causes asthma, which makes breathing difficult and causes typical wheezing and shortness of breath, is remedied by inhalation of bitter substances. A signal from the taste receptors relaxes the smooth muscles of the lungs, the bronchi open and the asthmatics can breathe freely again. In general, the researchers hope to be able to better treat lung diseases based on the current study results. Because the bitter substances opened the respiratory tract more thoroughly than all previously known drugs for the treatment of asthma or smoking lung (chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases), emphasized Stephen Liggett.
The active substances quinine and chloroquine, which were originally tried and tested in malaria treatment, have therefore shown to be three times more effective than previously used drugs for asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. Even the saccharin used in sweeteners could be used in the future for the treatment of lung diseases due to its bitter taste. Based on the findings now published in the journal "Nature Medicine", the drugs previously used could be replaced or their effects supported, the scientists from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore explained. However, the intake of bitter foods is not a solution - the bitter substances must be inhaled. "Based on our research, we think that chemical modifications of bitter compounds that are inhaled as an aerosol with the help of an inhaler help best," said Stephen Liggett. (Fp, 25.10.2010)
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