News Release

Bitter taste receptors may hold the key to managing preterm labor

New research in The FASEB Journal identifies uterine bitter taste receptors as potential deterrents to premature labor

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

This could be good news for those trying to prevent preterm labor: New research published online in The FASEB Journal suggests that exposing bitter taste receptors in the uterus to certain substances can stop many unwanted contractions that occur during premature labor.

"The biological mechanism of labor initiation remains unknown, and a large percentage of preterm pregnancies do not respond well to current medications," said Ronghua Zhuge, Ph.D., associate professor within the University of Massachusetts Medical School's Department of Microbiology and Physiological Systems in Worcester, Massachusetts. "The bitter taste receptors that we have found on uterine muscle could be one more piece of the puzzle to understand the onset of labor, both at term and preterm, and develop new therapeutics for preterm labor."

Zhuge and colleagues attached strips of human and mouse uterine myometrium tissue (also known as smooth muscle) to a machine that measured their contraction efforts. The researchers first exposed the tissue to native hormones such as oxytocin and chemical compounds to make it contract, mimicking normal or premature labor. They then exposed the tissue to bitter substances. By activating the bitter taste receptors in the uterus, the bitter substances relaxed the contracted uterine muscle tissue more completely than the current drugs used to prevent preterm labor in humans. The researchers also found that giving mice bitter substances before they showed any premature contractions prevented them from having early deliveries.


Submit to The FASEB Journal by visiting, and receive monthly highlights by signing up at The FASEB Journal is published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). It is the world's most cited biology journal according to the Institute for Scientific Information and has been recognized by the Special Libraries Association as one of the top 100 most influential biomedical journals of the past century.

FASEB is composed of 30 societies with more than 125,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. Our mission is to advance health and welfare by promoting progress and education in biological and biomedical sciences through service to our member societies and collaborative advocacy.

Details: Kaizhi Zheng, Ping Lu, Ellen Delpapa, Karl Bellve, Ruitang Deng, Jennifer C. Condon, Kevin Fogarty, Lawrence M. Lifshitz, Tiffany A. Moore Simas, Fangxiong Shi, and Ronghua Zhuge. Bitter taste receptors as targets for tocolytics in preterm labor therapy. FASEB J.; doi:10.1096/fj.201601323RR ;

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