Fending off a sinus infection may come down to a battle of bitter vs. sweet — that is, bitter and sweet taste receptors.
Researchers from Penn Medicine discovered that malfunctioning taste receptors can make you more prone to a nasty case of sinusitis, but that blocking sweet taste receptors in the upper airway can prevent an infection from developing, according to a new study published in Science Signaling.
That would be welcome news to the nearly 30 million Americans who suffer from chronic sinusitis and the stuffy nose, congestion and fatigue that go along with it.
Blocking a person’s sweet taste receptors allows the natural infection-fighting ability of bitter taste receptors to flourish. Bitter taste receptors are a natural, first-line defense against disease, according to the study authors. They work by releasing “small proteins called antimicrobial peptides which kill bacteria, viruses and fungi that enter the nose.”
When sweet receptors are highly activated, however, they can diminish the effect of the bitter receptors by slowing the stream of peptides that guard against invading pathogens.
The researchers also discovered that they can toggle with the activation level of sweet receptors by using specific amino acids that are naturally derived from bacteria. They noted that two types of amino acids secreted by the Staphylococcus bacteria activate a sweet taste receptor known as TR1, thus decreasing the amount of peptides.
“These amino acids, which come from Staphylococcus bacteria, block the body’s natural immune response by essentially hitting the breaks on the defensive bitter taste receptors,” said senior author Dr. Noam A. Cohen, an associate professor of Otorhinolaryngology and Director of Rhinology Research at Penn.
For the researchers, understanding how certain bacteria can influence the body’s natural disease-fighting…