A novel approach

Research led by a UTS scientist has shown the stimulation of bitter taste receptors could relieve features of allergic asthma

Dr Pawan Sharma from the UTS School of Life Sciences and The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, along with US colleagues, has looked into whether the activation of bitter taste receptor agonists could mitigate the features of asthma in mice.

They induced allergic asthma in mice and tested the effects of chloroquine and quinine, substances that stimulate bitter taste receptors, on various features of the disease.

Both substances are used in current anti-malarial drugs as well as in tonic water flavouring.

They found administration of chloroquine and quinine prevented the development of asthma and also reversed key disease symptoms in mice.

By activating bitter taste receptors in the lung, these substances blocked allergic airway inflammation and counteracted common features of the disease.

“We used both in vitro and in vivo approaches using human airway cells and mouse models of asthma to study the effectiveness of novel bitter tastants,” says Dr Sharma.

“We found that bitter compounds can prevent the underlying cause of the disease, which, until now, is hard to cure with conventional anti-asthma therapies.”

Dr Sharma says there is currently no effective asthma therapy to prevent progression, and the new research may be crucial in identifying a new class of drugs that can be an effective option in the future.

While current anti-asthma medication provides immediate relief, it is incapable of actually deterring airway remodelling, inflammation and mucus production.

Dr Sharma is now preparing to collaborate with researchers in the US to synthesise new bitter compounds that may be delivered as part of aerosolised therapy for humans.

“These findings and subsequent research exploring the response of novel bitter tastants in asthma could represent a real improvement in the treatment of asthma in future.”

Nature Scientific Reports 2017; online 11 April 2017

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