Activation of bitter taste receptors (T2Rs) in human airway smooth muscle cells leads to muscle relaxation and bronchodilation. This finding led to our hypothesis that T2Rs are expressed in human pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells and might be involved in regulating the vascular tone. RT-PCR was performed to reveal the expression of T2Rs in human pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells. Of the 25 T2Rs, 21 were expressed in these cells. Functional characterization was done by calcium imaging after stimulating the cells with different bitter agonists. Increased calcium responses were observed with most of the agonists, the largest increase seen for dextromethorphan. Previously in site-directed mutational studies, we have characterized the response of T2R1 to dextromethorphan, therefore, T2R1 was selected for further analysis in this study. Knockdown with T2R1 specific shRNA decreased mRNA levels, protein levels and dextromethorphan-induced calcium responses in pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells by up to 50%. To analyze if T2Rs are involved in regulating the pulmonary vascular tone, ex vivo studies using pulmonary arterial and airway rings were pursued. Myographic studies using porcine pulmonary arterial and airway rings showed that stimulation with dextromethorphan led to contraction of the pulmonary arterial and relaxation of the airway rings. This study shows that dextromethorphan, acting through T2R1, causes vasoconstrictor responses in the pulmonary circuit and relaxation in the airways.
Upadhyaya, J. D., Singh, N., Sikarwar, A. S., Chakraborty, R., Pydi, S. P., Bhullar, R. P., … Chelikani, P. (2014). Dextromethorphan mediated bitter taste receptor activation in the pulmonary circuit causes vasoconstriction. PLoS ONE, 9(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0110373