The sensation produced by carbonated beverages has been attributed to chemical excitation of nociceptors in the oral cavity via the conversion of CO(2) to carbonic acid in a reaction catalyzed by carbonic anhydrase. In separate studies, we tested if the carbonic anyhdrase blocker, acetazolamide, reduced either the intensity of sensation in humans or c-fos expression by trigeminal neurons in rats, evoked by application of carbonated water to the tongue. In the psychophysical experiment, one-half of the dorsal tongue was pretreated with acetazolamide (1 or 2%), after which the tongue was exposed bilaterally to carbonated water. In a two-alternative forced-choice paradigm, subjects chose which side of the tongue yielded a stronger sensation and additionally rated the magnitude of sensation on each side. Pretreatment with acetazolamide reduced the magnitude of sensation elicited by carbonated water in a concentration-dependent manner, since a significant majority of subjects chose the untreated side of the tongue as having a stronger sensation and assigned significantly higher intensity ratings to that side. Acetazolamide did not affect the irritant sensation from citric acid, while capsaicin pretreatment reduced both the sensation elicited by carbonated water and the irritation induced by citric acid application. In a separate experiment using rats, delivery of carbonated water to the tongue significantly increased the number of cells expressing c-fos-like immunoreactivity in the dorsomedial trigeminal nucleus caudalis (versus saline controls); this was significantly reduced by pretreatment with acetazolamide. Our results support the hypothesis that carbonated water activates lingual nociceptors via conversion of CO(2) to carbonic acid; the nociceptors in turn excite trigeminal neurons involved in signaling oral irritation.