PerspectiveCell Biology

Using Taste to Clear the Air(ways)

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Science  28 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5944, pp. 1081-1082
DOI: 10.1126/science.1179180

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Epithelial cells that line the human airway are constantly bombarded by environmental hazards, including toxins, irritants, viruses, and bacteria. The airway rids itself of these agents by secreting mucus to “capture” harmful substances and increasing the beat frequency of motile cilia on epithelial cells to sweep the mucus out of the system. Protective reflexes such as coughing are also initiated. The mechanisms used to detect and respond to harmful agents are poorly understood. On page 1131 of this issue, Shah et al. (1) report that cultured human airway epithelial cells use elements of the bitter taste cellular signaling pathway to detect and eliminate potential noxious agents from the airways.