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Lung Taste Receptors Discovery May Improve Asthma Treatment

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Researchers have discovered that bitter taste receptors are not just located in the mouth but also in human lungs. What they learned about the role of the receptors could revolutionize the treatment of asthma and other obstructive lung diseases.

You may click to see :Sensory Transducers :

The ability to taste isn’t limited to the mouth, and researchers say that discovery might one day lead to better treatments for diseases such as asthma.

“The detection of functioning taste receptors on smooth muscle of the bronchus in the lungs was so unexpected that we were at first quite skeptical ourselves,” says the study’s senior author, Stephen B. Liggett.

Dr. Liggett, a pulmonologist, says his team found the taste receptors by accident, during an earlier, unrelated study of human lung muscle receptors that regulate airway contraction and relaxation. The airways are the pathways that move air in and out of the lungs, one of several critical steps in the process of delivering oxygen to cells throughout the body. In asthma, the smooth muscle airways contract or tighten, impeding the flow of air, causing wheezing and shortness of breath.

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.

For the current study, Dr. Liggett’s team exposed bitter-tasting compounds to human and mouse airways, individual airway smooth muscle cells, and to mice with asthma. The findings are published online in Nature Medicine.

Most plant-based poisons are bitter, so the researchers thought the purpose of the lung’s taste receptors was similar to those in the tongue – to warn against poisons. “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.

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.

Dr. Liggett cautions that eating bitter tasting foods or compounds would not help in the treatment of asthma.

Another paradoxical aspect of their discovery is the unexpected role that the mineral calcium plays when the lung’s taste receptors are activated. The study’s principal author, Deepak A. Deshpande, is an expert in how calcium controls muscles. “We always assumed that increased calcium in the smooth muscle cell caused it to contract, but we found that bitter compounds increase calcium and cause relaxation of airway muscle in a unique way,” says Dr. Deshpande. “It appears that these taste receptors are wired to a special pool of calcium that is right at the edge of these cells,” he says.



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Ailmemts & Remedies

Taste Disorders

We experience taste when a substance contacts one of four taste receptor cells for sweet, salt, bitter, or sour. The receptor cells are located in taste buds spread over the surface of the tongue and throat. Three different nerves allow us to taste, therefore it is very difficult to lose all sense of taste through a nerve injury. In addition, like the smell nerves, the taste receptor cells are replaceable and if damaged they can grow back. A decrease in ability to taste is called hypogeusia, and a total loss of taste is termed ageusia.


Click to learn:-> What is taste Description of the parts of the tongue.

Taste disorders like smell disorders can occur for many different reasons. Total loss of taste often indicates a disorder throughout the body such as due to toxicity, medications, or nutrition disorders. Decreased or abnormal taste can also occur from poor dentition or from cancer of the mouth.

Besides a detailed history and head and neck exam, evaluation by an otolaryngologist for smell and taste disorders may add smell and taste testing. Testing of smell function often includes taking a “scratch and sniff” odor identification test matching a smell with a list of odors. Taste function can be tested by applying four different solutions (sweet, salt, bitter, and sour) to four different regions of the tongue. Additional evaluation may include a CT scan and/or an MRI of the brain and sinuses.

If you experience a taste problem, it is important to remember that you are not alone. More than 200,000 people visit a physician for such a chemosensory problem each year. Many more taste disorders go unreported.

Many people who have taste disorders also notice problems with their sense of smell. If you would like more information about your sense of smell, the fact sheet Smell Disorders may answer some of your questions.

How does our sense of taste work?

Taste belongs to our chemical sensing system, or the chemosenses. The complex process of tasting begins when tiny molecules released by the substances around us stimulate special cells in the nose, mouth, or throat. These special sensory cells transmit messages through nerves to the brain, where specific tastes are identified

Click to learn more:->Smell and Taste Disorders

Gustatory or taste cells react to food and beverages. These surface cells in the mouth send taste information to their nerve fibers. The taste cells are clustered in the taste buds of the mouth, tongue, and throat. Many of the small bumps that can be seen on the tongue contain taste buds.

Another chemosensory mechanism, called the common chemical sense, contributes to appreciation of food flavor. In this system, thousands of nerve endings–especially on the moist surfaces of the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat–give rise to sensations like the sting of ammonia, the coolness of menthol, and the irritation of chili peppers.

We can commonly identify at least five different taste sensations: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (the taste elicited by glutamate, which is found in chicken broth, meat extracts, and some cheeses). In the mouth, these tastes, along with texture, temperature, and the sensations from the common chemical sense, combine with odors to produce a perception of flavor. It is flavor that lets us know whether we are eating a pear or an apple. Some people are surprised to learn that flavors are recognized mainly through the sense of smell. If you hold your nose while eating chocolate, for example, you will have trouble identifying the chocolate flavor–even though you can distinguish the food’s sweetness or bitterness. That is because the distinguishing characteristic of chocolate, for example, what differentiates it from caramel, is sensed largely by its odor.

What are the taste disorders?

The most common true taste complaint is phantom taste perceptions. Additionally, testing may demonstrate a reduced ability to taste sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami, which is called hypogeusia. Some people can detect no tastes, called ageusia. True taste loss is rare; perceived loss usually reflects a smell loss, which is often confused with a taste loss.

Click to learn more about :->Test Disorders

In other disorders of the chemical senses, the system may misread and or distort an odor, a taste, or a flavor. Or a person may detect a foul taste from a substance that is normally pleasant tasting.

Symptoms – Taste disorders are often temporary. Alteration in taste varies depending upon the disease, period of suffering, treatment and drugs. For example:

  • In gout – uric acid diathesis/metabolism – salty taste

  • In infection (bacterial) – metallic taste

  • In fever (viral flu) – bitter taste

  • In gastritis/heartburn – sour taste

  • In toxicity – metallic taste

What causes taste disorders?

Some people are born with chemosensory disorders, but most develop them after an injury or illness. Upper respiratory infections are blamed for some chemosensory losses, and injury to the head can also cause taste problems.

Loss of taste can also be caused by exposure to certain chemicals such as insecticides and by some medicines. Taste disorders may result from oral health problems and some surgeries (e.g. third molar extraction and middle ear surgery). Many patients who receive radiation therapy for cancers of the head and neck develop chemosensory disorders.

How are taste disorders diagnosed?

The extent of a chemosensory disorder can be determined by measuring the lowest concentration of a chemical that a person can detect or recognize. A patient may also be asked to compare the tastes of different chemicals or to note how the intensity of a taste grows when a chemical’s concentration is increased.

Scientists have developed taste testing in which the patient responds to different chemical concentrations. This may involve a simple “sip, spit, and rinse” test, or chemicals may be applied directly to specific areas of the tongue.

Click to learn more :->How are taste and smell disorders diagnosed?

Are taste disorders serious?

Yes. A person with a taste disorder is challenged not only by quality-of-life issues, but also deprived of an early warning system that most of us take for granted. Taste helps us detect spoiled food or beverages and, for some, the presence of food to which we’re allergic. Perhaps more serious, loss of the sense of taste can also lead to depression and a reduced desire to eat.

Abnormalities in chemosensory function may accompany and even signal the existence of several diseases or unhealthy conditions, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, malnutrition, and some degenerative diseases of the nervous system such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Korsakoff’s psychosis.


  • Disgust for food/life

  • Malnutrition

  • Depression

Can taste disorders be treated?

Yes. If a certain medication is the cause of a taste disorder, stopping or changing the medicine may help eliminate the problem. Some patients, notably those with respiratory infections or allergies, regain their sense of taste when the illness resolves. Often the correction of a general medical problem can also correct the loss of taste. Occasionally, recovery of the chemosenses occurs spontaneously.

General treatment – Treatment usually depends upon the cause and nature of the disease(s). Getting normalcy will be aimed mostly at removing the exciting or maintaining causes, i.e. by

  • Correcting anaemia,allergies dental problems, uric acid diathesis, etc.

  • Treating mouth ulcers, infections (bacterial / viral / fungal), digestive or acid reflux disorders, etc.

  • Changing or stopping newly added medicines (antibiotics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, pain-killers, etc.)

Commonly, if there is no serious illness, physicians will simply prescribe vitamin supplements and till taste recovers on its own (i.e., without providing any specific treatment).

Homeopathic approach on taste disorders – In all other system of medicines, the recovery of taste will come in the end i.e., after stopping the treatment process/medicines. Also, sometimes they need to leave the taste to come up on its own. Whereas while getting Homeopathy treatment, patients’ feelings and sensations get improved first. Well being sensations will always be the first improvement with successful treatment of Homeopathy. Homeopathy concentrates on each and every aspect of patient feelings and restores them to normal first (prior to setting right the disease). It works in all ways to raise immunity. For raising immunity/strengthen vitality, it enhances good intake of diet (by making the taste good). Thus here is another example to show Homeopathy is on the right track towards nature.

Some feel the distorted taste without any diseases or sufferings (with unknown or idiopathic causes) and some other suffers with incurable diseases. Here too, Homeopathy can succeed in correcting the taste with its individualisation treatment with characteristic symptoms of patient and disease with tongue indications and taste characters.

To spice up taste, Homeopathy can work amazingly. There are specific medicines for specific feelings of taste in Homeopathy, likewise for cravings and aversions too. They will act at the core of the disease and clear the tongue problems simultaneously.

For example:

  • Diminished taste – Borax, Carboveg, Cyclamen, Puls, Veratrum alb,

  • Complete loss of taste – Stramonium

  • Abnormal taste of foods (or water) – sweetish – Cuprum met, Merc sol, Veratrum Alb, etc.

  • Sweet metallic taste in mouth/tongue – Cocculus, Merc sol, etc.

  • Salty taste in mouth/tongue – Cyclamen, Iodium, Merc sol, Nat mur, etc.

  • Sour taste –Calc carb, China, Lycopodium, Nux vom, Rhus tox, Sulphur, etc.

  • Bitter taste – Borax, Bryonia, Carbo veg, China, Lachesis, Nat mur, Pulsatilla, Rhus tox, Stramonium, Sulphur, etc.

  • Soapy taste – Iodium

  • Bloody taste – Bovista & Kreosote

  • Coppery taste – Medorrhinum

  • Taste remains in tongue for a long time after eating – Hydrastis

  • Taste of rotten eggs – Cuprum met, Merc sol, Pulsatilla

  • Oily/greasy taste in tongue/mouth – Causticum, Rhus tox, Secale cor

  • Feeling numbness/tingling sensation in tongue – Aconite, Causticum, Coninum, Gelsemium, Nux vom, Nat mur, Secale cor, etc.

  • Burning tongue – Apis, Ars alb, Arum triphyllum, Baptisia, Belladonna, Beri Beri vul, Capsicum, Causticum, etc.

  • Sensation of hair in tongue – Kali bich, Alumina, Nat mur, etc.

  • Frothy saliva in mouth – Stramonium

These medicines should be taken under the advice and diagnosis of a Qualified Homeopath.

What research is being done?

The NIDCD supports basic and clinical investigations of chemosensory disorders at institutions across the Nation. Some of these studies are conducted at several chemosensory research centers, where scientists work together to unravel the secrets of taste disorders.

Some of the most recent research on our sense of taste focuses on identifying the key receptors in our taste cells and how they work in order to form a more complete understanding of the gustatory system, particularly how the protein mechanisms in G-protein-coupled receptors work. Advances in this area may have great practical uses, such as the creation of medicines and artificial food products that allow older adults with taste disorders to enjoy food again. Future research may examine how tastes change in both humans and animals. Some of this research will focus on adaptive taste changes over long periods in different animal species, while other research will examine why we accept or have an aversion to different tastes. Beyond this, scientists feel future gustatory research may also investigate how taste affects various processing activities in the brain. Specifically, how taste interacts with memory, influences hormonal feedback systems, and its role in the eating decisions and behavior.

Already, remarkable progress has been made in establishing the nature of changes that occur in taste senses with age. It is now known that age takes a much greater toll on smell than on taste. Also, taste cells (along with smell cells) are the only sensory cells that are regularly replaced throughout a person’s life span–taste cells usually last about 10 days. Scientists are examining these phenomena which may provide ways to replace damaged sensory and nerve cells.

NIDCD’s research program goals for chemosensory sciences include

* Promoting the regeneration of sensory and nerve cells
* Appreciating the effects of the environment (such as gasoline fumes, chemicals, and extremes of relative humidity and temperature) on taste.
* Preventing the effects of aging.
* Preventing infectious agents and toxins from reaching the brain through the olfactory nerve.
* Developing new diagnostic tests.
* Understanding associations between chemosensory disorders and altered food intake in aging as well as in various chronic illnesses.
* Improving treatment methods and rehabilitation strategies.

What can I do to help myself?

Proper diagnosis by a trained professional, such as an otolaryngologist, is important. These physicians specialize in disorders of the head and neck, especially those related to the ear, nose, and throat. Diagnosis may lead to treatment of the underlying cause of the disorder. Many types of taste disorders are curable, and for those that are not, counseling is available to help patients cope.

Where can I find more information?

NIDCD maintains a directory of organizations that can answer questions and provide printed or electronic information on taste disorders. Please see the list of organizations at

Use the following subject area to help you search for organizations that are relevant to taste disorders:

* Smell and Taste

For more information, additional addresses and phone numbers, or a printed list of organizations, contact:

NIDCD Information Clearinghouse
1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20892-3456
Toll-free Voice: (800) 241-1044
Toll-free TTY: (800) 241-1055
Fax: (301) 770-8977

For more information, contact the NIDCD Information Clearinghouse.

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.