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Cilia are microscopic projections that extend from eukaryotic cells. There are two general types of cilia; primary cilia serve as sensory organelles, whereas motile cilia exert mechanical force. The motile cilia emerging from human airway epithelial cells propel harmful inhaled material out of the lung. We found that these cells express sensory bitter taste receptors, which localized on motile cilia. Bitter compounds increased the intracellular calcium ion concentration and stimulated ciliary beat frequency. Thus, airway epithelia contain a cell-autonomous system in which motile cilia both sense noxious substances entering airways and initiate a defensive mechanical mechanism to eliminate the offending compound. Hence, like primary cilia, classical motile cilia also contain sensors to detect the external environment.