Your Lungs Have Their Own Taste Buds

Scientists find bitter tastes open airways, could treat asthma

By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 25, 2010 7:06 PM CDT

(Newser) – The lungs have taste buds, identical to a type found in the tongue, a group of scientists have found. Lungs only have the type of taste bud that can taste bitter tastes, and the taste signals don't travel to the brain—instead, they dilate the air passages more effectively than any available asthma medication, the Daily Mail reports.

"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," the lead researcher said. "It turns out that the bitter compounds worked the opposite way from what we thought. They all opened the airway more profoundly than any known drug that we have for treatment of asthma." With more development, bitter-tasting compounds, delivered by inhaler in an aerosol form, could form the basis for powerful new therapies.

A man is seen smoking in a cigar shop March 20, 2006, in Glasgow, Scotland.
A man is seen smoking in a cigar shop March 20, 2006, in Glasgow, Scotland.   (Getty Images)
A man examines an exhibit of the pulmonary veins and bronchi during 'Bodies.....The Exhibition' on April 12, 2006 in London, England.
A man examines an exhibit of the pulmonary veins and bronchi during 'Bodies.....The Exhibition' on April 12, 2006 in London, England.   (Getty Images)
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The detection of functioning taste receptors on smooth muscle of the bronchus in the lungs was so unexpected that we were at first quite sceptical ourselves.
- Stephen Liggett, professor, University of Maryland School of Medicine

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