What is common between your tongue and lung? As you struggle to find an answer, scientists have found recently that these two organs share the same bitter taste receptors. These receptors in the bronchial muscle may well be the answer for asthma and other lung diseases.

Scientists have found these bitter taste receptors in the lungs when exposed to substances to activate bitter taste receptors in the tongue; they opened up the airways better than any currently used medicines.

According to Stephen B. Liggett, M.D., a pulmonologist from the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine, these findings were accidental and came out during a study of how lung muscle receptors regulate airway tightening and expansion.

While the cluster taste buds in our tongue send signals to the brain, the ones in the lungs do not exist in clusters and don’t communicate to the brains. However, when exposed to substances with a bitter taste they respond in the same way.

The scientists also believe that the taste receptors in the lungs have the same function as those in our tongue - to warn against toxins. Scientists used substances, known to activate bitter taste receptors and to their surprise the airways in the lungs expanded. The airways opened up better than drugs used for treatment of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This could either replace current therapies, or improve them, says Liggett.

Chloroquine and quinine, very bitter substances, were found to open up the airways in mice with asthma. Similarly, saccharin, a sweetener with a bitter aftertaste, also relaxed the airways in the asthmatic mice. However, the scientists have warned that eating bitter food will not have the desired effect.

Another revelation during the study was that bitter compounds can make calcium levels rise and cause relaxation of airway muscle.