There are thousands of compounds that activate the body's bitter taste receptors but are not toxic in appropriate doses. Many are synthetic agents, developed for different purposes, and others come from natural origins, such as certain vegetables, flowers, berries and trees.
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," says Dr. Liggett. "They all opened the airway more profoundly than any known drug that we have for treatment of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)." Dr. Liggett says this observation could have implications for new therapies. "New drugs to treat asthma, emphysema or chronic bronchitis are needed," he says. "This could replace or enhance what is now in use, and represents a completely new approach."
Quinine and chloroquine have been used to treat completely different diseases (such as malaria), but are also very bitter. Both of these compounds opened contracted airways profoundly in laboratory models. Even saccharin, which has a bitter aftertaste, was effective at stimulating these receptors. The researchers also found that administration of an aerosolized form of bitter substances relaxed the airways in a mouse model of asthma, showing that they could potentially be an effective treatment for this disease.
Dr. Liggett cautions that eating bitter tasting foods or compounds would not help in the treatment of asthma. "Based on our research, we think that the best drugs would be chemical modifications of bitter compounds, which would be aerosolized and then inhaled into the lungs with an inhaler," he says.
Another paradoxical aspect of the
|Contact: Sharon Boston|
University of Maryland Medical Center