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Breathe better with bitter

Lungs relax when hit with acrid gases

11:51am, October 25, 2010

Inhaling a blast of bitter fumes sends a breathe-easy message to the lungs, a new study shows. Stimulating bitterness receptors in the lungs relaxes and opens the airways, a counterintuitive finding that could lead to new asthma medications, scientists report online October 24 in Nature Medicine.

Bitter-taste receptors just like the ones on the tongue abound on the smooth muscle tissue that wraps around the airway tubes leading to the lungs, reports a team from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. In mice bred to have asthma, inhaled bitter compounds such as quinine did a better job of relaxing airways than did the standard asthma drug albuterol.

These bitter-taste receptors in lung muscles should be good targets for new asthma medications that are based on the multitude of molecules known to stimulate bitter receptors, says Mathur Kannan, a pharmacologist in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota in St. Pau

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