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Medicine Science

You Have Taste Receptors In Your Lungs 223

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-the-rest-of-us,-just-you dept.
timothy points out news of a study from the University of Maryland's School of Medicine that found bitter taste receptors on the smooth muscle lining airways in the lungs (abstract in Nature). Quoting: "The taste receptors in the lungs are the same as those on the tongue. The tongue’s receptors are clustered in taste buds, which send signals to the brain. The researchers say that in the lung, the taste receptors are not clustered in buds and do not send signals to the brain, yet they respond to substances that have a bitter taste. ... '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,' says Dr. Liggett. ... The researchers tested a few standard bitter substances known to activate these receptors. 'It turns out that the bitter compounds worked the opposite way from what we thought. They all opened the airway more extensively than any known drug that we have for treatment of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).'"
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You Have Taste Receptors In Your Lungs

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  • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @12:03AM (#34021102) Homepage Journal

    For Dunhill over Pariament and Davidoff over Benson & Hedges!

  • Let's see what they come up with from this.
    • by PinkyGigglebrain (730753) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @12:19AM (#34021188)
      Since it uses a completely different mechanism than current drugs, which relax the bronchial muscles directly, and works better as well, it would not only be safer for children and people in general but vastly cheaper.

      I wonder if this has any bearing on how hot toddy's work?

      _
      • by mysidia (191772) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @12:48AM (#34021328)

        it would not only be safer for children and people in general but vastly cheaper.

        Cheaper?

        If it can't be patented and net drug companies billions of $$$; I doubt there will be a company to spend the millions for the research required to get "bitter-taste-based medication" through FDA approval.

        Once they have the patent on the method of operation ("bitter tasting substance used to treat COPD, or bitter tasting substance used to treat asthma by stimulating lung taste receptors"), they will charge the standard markups all proprietary drugs get.

        IOW -- it will probably be more expensive, or we'll probably never see a product based on that come to market that can be legally marketed as such. Just a bunch of studies that show the idea is promising.

        • You are so right. My first draft included some not very polite references to Pharmacorps and their practices. But since those always seem to incite a flame war I opted for less fuel.

          And getting it by the FDA is going to be as much a pain as you indicated, not to mention that there will likely be some "incentives" to the FDA director/testers to ignore, delay, lose the testing protocols for any product based on this discovery that did make it that far.

          Likely it will be other countries that move forward wi
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by HungryHobo (1314109)

            I'm guessing it would be patentable.

            An example:
            Finasteride was initially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1992 under the brand name Proscar, a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). In 1997, the FDA approved finasteride to treat male pattern baldness

            someone discovered that a 1 mg daily dose of a prostate cancer drug normally taken in 5mg doses for prostate cancer could treat baldness.

            The drug was out of patent for prostate cancer but the trials were done for baldness.

            he

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by FatdogHaiku (978357)
            Well, anyone with an SVN (small volume nebulizer) could test this at home... two issues would be remembering that sour != bitter and selecting a safe bitter testing substance.

            Tonic water contains a small amount of quinine, which is considered bitter. That might be an interesting development, Schweppes for COPD.

            Of course I'm not suggesting that anyone with a health issue such as COPD should undertake such home tests. If, as you suggest, other countries found effective therapies, it would be hard to stop th
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by drinkypoo (153816)

          While you are correct, it might also be so simple that you can whip up an herbal extract and put it in an atomizer. I suspect that a water-based extract of some bitter herb is all that is necessary, plus perhaps a tiny smidge of citric acid or alcohol for freshness (don't get carried away, kids!)

          The expensiveness and homicidal dreams of anti-malaria medication don't prevent a tea made from olive leaves from curing malaria. Fucking Pliny knew about this if that helps you understand how old it is, yet today w

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by mysidia (191772)

            While you are correct, it might also be so simple that you can whip up an herbal extract and put it in an atomizer. I suspect that a water-based extract of some bitter herb is all that is necessary

            Yes... if people self-medicate, at their own risk, some people could try that.

            Their doctor/health care professional, however, would be taking so huge a legal risk to recommend or order use of a product as a medication not FDA approved for that usage, they would probably not do that

            Without someone running clin

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by drinkypoo (153816)

              Their doctor/health care professional, however, would be taking so huge a legal risk to recommend or order use of a product as a medication not FDA approved for that usage, they would probably not do that

              That's okay, most of middle america can't afford to go to the doctor any more, so that's a non-issue. (The poorest people, of course, receive the standard sub-standard health care...)

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Hatta (162192)

              Their doctor/health care professional, however, would be taking so huge a legal risk to recommend or order use of a product as a medication not FDA approved for that usage, they would probably not do that

              That's nonsense, it happens all the time. One example, Propranolol is a beta blocker originally indicated as a heart medication. It's quite effective and very safe. It's never been approved for treating anxiety, but doctors hand it out like candy to musicians and performers to handle stage fright. There

              • by chris mazuc (8017)

                Having taken propranolol (for migraines, it didn't work btw) I find it interesting it is also used for performance anxiety. I wonder if it actually reduces the anxiety or simply removes the physical effects. A while back there was an Olympic sport shooter [wikipedia.org] that was stripped of his medals for using propranolol, presumably to assist aiming.

                • by Hatta (162192)

                  Yes, it mainly stops the physical effects of anxiety. Shaking hands or an uneven voice are caused by the effects of adrenalin, which propranolol blocks. Psychologically, it only affects anxiety in an indirect way, by reassuring performers that they won't have to deal with their voice wavering or fingers trembling.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          If it can't be patented and net drug companies billions of $$$; I doubt there will be a company to spend the millions for the research required to get "bitter-taste-based medication" through FDA approval.

          The nice thing is, if these "standard bitter substances" have been FDA approved for one application they can be used for any application. You don't have to get FDA approval for each indication, so if these are already known substances it might be pretty easy to get a product made.

        • Maybe some herbalist could devise a spray of Gentain ( very bitter ) extractives and experiment inhaling it themselves. If they don't die, maybe they could put it in a spray 'flavor spray' 'food'. Then by word of mouth it might spread through the Asthmatic community that it works better than standard inhalers ( if indeed it did work ), displacing them. Nobody would need to make claims as to inhaled gentain extract's supposed drug qualities.... Maybe it doesn't need to be inhaled. If not, they could ma

        • That may be true of most traditional drug companies but what about the Natural remedy companies like Ricola? I'm sure they would love an all natural treatment for asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease!

          Nick Powers

      • I wonder if this has any bearing on how hot toddy's work?

        Maybe if you make it wrong. If you make it "right," the booze just makes you forget that you feel sick.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Fluffeh (1273756)
      Yes, throw away that old inhaler! Just inhale this LEMON or this sour bomb [alibaba.com] and breathe your worries away!
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by robbak (775424)

        Sour and Bitter are two different tastes, but that's kind of the idea!

        • I had childhood asthma and I could trigger a mild attack by eating a pickled onion, I passed on the genetics for this strange reaction to my oldest son who also had childhood asthma.
          • Sulfoxides plus the brine to make them into a nice vapour.

            Attacks are the normal "I'm being poisoned" reflex. Sulfoxides are close enough.

    • by fractoid (1076465)

      Let's see what they come up with from this.

      How about some bitter substance that you can carry in a vial, and breathe in if you ever lack oxygen? For instance, if you're wearing a tight corset, you might feel faint due to your compressed lungs, and use this to help recover.

      I'm gonna call it "Smelling Salts".

  • Great... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @12:12AM (#34021138) Homepage Journal
    As if I didn't have enough justification for an aversion to public restrooms. Now I know that when I go into one and it smells like someone slaughtered a cow in there, my lungs will be tasting that. Thanks a lot, University of Maryland!
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @12:15AM (#34021166) Homepage Journal

    When I was premed we experimented on fish with several neurotransmitters. Since I was in a frat, I eventually found myself doing shots of them (about 0.1cc each). They all tasted bitter.

    They also gave me some stomach upset and one or two caused a little abdominal cramping. And I have become steadily more weird. Though since I started out weird enough to do neurotransmitter shots, so maybe I was headed here anyway.

    • by antifoidulus (807088) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @01:30AM (#34021520) Homepage Journal
      The answer is obvious, the fish neuroeceptors bonded with those in your own brain and you are now part fish. Do you find yourself flopping about when you are removed from water? Do you find yourself capable of eating until your stomach literally explodes because you have no receptors that tell you that you're full? Do you find yourself inexplicably drawn to plastic castles? If so you are a fishman, you best be hanging around the basement of draculas castle attacking anyone with a whip and sen ding him flying back into the water.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      When I was premed we experimented on fish with several neurotransmitters. Since I was in a frat, I eventually found myself doing shots of them (about 0.1cc each). They all tasted bitter.

      That's odd, what kind of fish were they?

  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @12:16AM (#34021178)

    It's not very often that researchers stumble onto something cheap and simple that could potentially save hundreds of millions of lives. I sure hope it pans out in practice.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @01:25AM (#34021494)

      It's not very often that researchers stumble onto something cheap and simple that could potentially save hundreds of millions of lives. I sure hope it pans out in practice.

      No, but it's every other week that some researcher thinks he has.

      • by bobdotorg (598873)

        It's not very often that researchers stumble onto something cheap and simple that could potentially save hundreds of millions of lives. I sure hope it pans out in practice.

        No, but it's every other week that some researcher thinks he has.

        And every other day that some researcher submits a grant application claiming one.

      • by Interoperable (1651953) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @03:09AM (#34021956)

        Well, it's at least that often that a science journalist misrepresents a researcher's statements to make it sound like he thinks he has.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      It's not very often that researchers stumble onto something cheap and simple that could potentially save hundreds of millions of lives.

      Big Pharma + patents = perverse incentives
      There's no money to be made in taking something through the expense of clinical trials when the patent can easily be sidestepped.

    • by Toad-san (64810)

      Well, boys, this one would be an easy one to test.

      Find yourself (or be) a brave asthmatic.

      Go out and buy some denatonium benzoate. It's readily available in liquid or powder form, and is pretty much non-toxic.

      When you're feeling nice and congested ... snort up! (Or fire up a steamer and inhale some fumes.)

      If it works, throw away those damned 25 dollar inhalers and let us know!

      (Ain't science wunnerful?)

  • Coffee (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xaoslaad (590527) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @12:18AM (#34021180)
    Any chance this is why the coffee for asthma remedy is supposedly effective? Perhaps inhaling the vapors for a bitter fluid are doing just what they described here?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by flows (1075083)

      Any chance this is why the coffee for asthma remedy is supposedly effective? Perhaps inhaling the vapors for a bitter fluid are doing just what they described here?

      My thoughts exactly! As an asthmatic, I have found myself often alleviated by coffee. My assumption was that either the warmth or maybe even the caffeine was responsible.

      Can it be why just the smell of coffee makes me feel better?

      I'm surely paying more attention in the future. *Goes get more coffee*

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The primary effectiveness of coffee comes from the stimulant properties of caffeine (take a couple of shots from an inhaler in close proximity with coffee and you'll notice that the stimulant effects of both compound for an unpleasant jittery effect).

      HOWEVER the bitter vapors may very well increase the effectiveness.

      I'm not surprised by this at all, based on decades of experience with bronchial problems.

      Things I've noticed:
      Cinnamon tends to have a soothing effect; particularly a "tea" of cinnamon with a sho

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BobMcD (601576)

        (I've always had the weirdest feeling of being able to taste cold air, when it gets down a little below freezing I experience a smoky sensation that doesn't seem to come from anywhere in particular)

        That's the moisture in your airways 'steaming up' due to contact with the cold. Same thing that you'd see if you exhaled into that same air, but on the inside...

  • Could this be WHY vicks vapor rub works so well?

  • by oRiCN (21089)

    So, All along the Bitrex they put in airdusters has been helping people reach an extra high?

  • We've known it for years (decades, even) that there are taste receptors in the lungs. People with no taste/smells can taste things if they inhale deep enough. Also, there are taste receptors in the sinuses, on the roof of the mouth, and under the tongue as well.

    • by z0idberg (888892)
      You know this from first-hand experience? From the research it seems that wouldn't be possible.

      in the lung, the taste receptors are not clustered in buds and do not send signals to the brain

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      Given the claim is for taste receptors which don't send anything to the brain, surely you can conclude they just might be different from something that can actually result in "tasting" something.

  • by Sebilrazen (870600) <blahsebilrazen@blah.com> on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @01:23AM (#34021484)
    Seems this could be why beer and coffee go so well with smokes, they make it easier to breathe while puffing on that chimney stick.
    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Actually, this makes sense.

      The other night my son was having breathing problems (asthma) and he'd just run out of his inhaler. He was also putting on a little drama, and making it worse than it was by exaggerating. Short of taking him to the ER, we didn't see many options.

      So on a whim - and to get him to shut up and go to sleep - I poured a couple drops of "cleaning" grade whiskey in a glass and gave it to him. "Here's some medicine. Drink it quickly."

      So he pounded the small amount of liquor. His face scrun

  • by scapermoya (769847) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @01:24AM (#34021490) Homepage
    I wonder what might be the reasoning behind this system evolving/remaining intact in humans. I can't really think of an exogenous substance that we inhale naturally that would activate such a response and confer an advantage to us. My best guess would be that the natural ligand for these receptors is something that is produced locally in the lungs in scenarios where bronchiodilation is desired (ie sympathetic stimulation). as someone else pointed out, many of the common neuroreceptors are alkaloids, and would probably activate these receptors. From the abstract, it sounds like these receptors are Gq (IP3 and calcium) receptors, which is interesting because the "classic" receptors that dilate the smooth muscle in the lungs are Gs receptors that stimulate increased cAMP. In smooth muscle, more calcium generally leads to stronger, not weaker, contraction. cAMP leads to relaxation, explaining why epinephrine and albuterol have their effects.

    didn't have time to read the whole paper. exam on this stuff tomorrow though, wonder if I can use this on an essay question?

    /med student
    • by clickety6 (141178)
      Maybe it's not to warn us of noxious substances, but to help us expel them once inhaled. If you're in a smoke-filled environment, being able to gulp down larger amounts of smoke-filed air won't help, but if you've just escaped from one, having the passages open to suck ion clean air and expel smoky air might give you an advantage - might keep you ahead of a forest fire by helping you recover faster and run faster...
    • by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @04:11AM (#34022176)
      I doubt there's a reason for it in that sense. Things which don't hurt our capability to reproduce tend to just hang around until such time as they do hurt our chances to reproduce. It could for all we know just be a minor glitch causing the cells to migrate in a way which isn't necessary.

      I mean why do some people have trouble smelling sulfur and others don't. Why do some people retain the ability to wiggle their ears while others don't. Or for that matter have ear lobes. None of those things are particularly make or break it in the current environment, but who knows maybe if things change they'll be more important.
      • by BobMcD (601576)

        Things which don't hurt our capability to reproduce tend to just hang around until such time as they do hurt our chances to reproduce.

        Note, though, that with humans being involved the nature of 'reproduce' takes on a slightly different meaning. We may not know how long we humans have had notions of 'love', etc, but these certainly play a role today, and clearly will do so going forward. An individual that was perfectly viable from a biological standpoint may or may not get the opportunity to reproduce if they are not viable from a social standpoint.

      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        But asthma and other breathing problems do impact a person's ability to breed, albeit only slightly.

        Asthmatic kids are usually somewhat slight compared to their peers. They tire easily, and don't have much endurance. Every once in a while, one of them dies from an allergic response to something common (eg. walk into a dusty/musty/moldy closet or cave).

        As such, they're weaker, unable to fight off enemies or run down food as easily. They either don't last until breeding ages or are undesirable for such a role

    • by skids (119237)

      Well, first we need to ask whether humans are the only species that have them.

      But if so, I'll put my chips on it being related to campfires. I could imagine how not being able to sit calmly next to a fire in a poorly ventilated cave would have been a disadvantage for much of human history.

      Heck, if smokers didn't cause so many fires falling asleep with cigarettes, there'd probably be statistics about how they are more likely to be able to escape a burning house versus someone with pristine, easily irritated

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      I wonder what might be the reasoning behind this system evolving/remaining intact in humans. I can't really think of an exogenous substance that we inhale naturally that would activate such a response and confer an advantage to us.

      Who said it had to be exogenous? The body naturally excretes adrenaline - a catecholamine neurotransmitter. Adrenaline, like all neurotransmitters (apparently - I didn't know that until reading this thread), are bitter. We know adrenaline widens breathing passages, so provided this 'bitter response' is independent from the impact adrenaline has on the lungs, I can see how a cooperative response would be beneficial.

  • by solferino (100959) <hazchem@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @01:44AM (#34021582) Homepage

    The idea that occurred to me while reading the summary is maybe this partially explains the sense of well-being gained from being in a forest or some leafy natural environment.

    As we know, most plants taste bitter - perhaps plants are also releasing bitter tasting gasses which help to open up our lungs.

    • If I had the points I would mod you up. I really hope some researcher follows up on your idea.

      Since we taste bitter, not smell it, we wouldn't detect even a trace of "bitter" unless we breathed through our mouths. I doubt it would take much to trigger the receptors in the lungs so the other scent compounds would overpower the bitter signal from the tongue, so the brain gets an "Ooooo, Earthy, loamy goodness" signal while the lungs get "Open wide!".
    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      That's possible, but I always thought that general feeling of well-being came from a combination of factors:

      * Ozone from the rotting leaves. Supposedly, ozone has a calming sensation. I've noticed this feeling strongest in spring and fall in the Northeast (vs. the Western Mountains, where there isn't nearly as much rotting going on).
      * The trees themselves. They're releasing oxygen. You're essentially getting high.

      Of course, a bitter taste could also help explain why laying in a pile of leaves is so calming.

  • Maybe the ol' grandma trick of sniffing fumes from a weird stew of seemingly random herbs wasn't that silly after all.

  • So much for the old "did not inhale" defense!
  • "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny'" -Isaac Asimov ...lifted from http://www.jsur.org/ [jsur.org]
  • This is hardly news to anyone who's ever had the distinctly horrible experience of "Nerds" going down the wrong pipe...

  • When my local news reported this (via a medical doctor), the talking heads cut him off and suggested that inhaling food might be a good idea. They didn't give the doctor a chance to respond to their idiocy before continuing on to the next story.
  • That's why Buckley's [wikipedia.org] works so well. There's enough bitter in that to knock a person down. But it works..

How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else. -- R. Buckminster Fuller

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