Molecular and cellular mechanisms of trigeminal chemosensation

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Jul;1170:184-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.03895.x.


Three sensory systems, olfaction, taste, and somatosensation, are dedicated to the detection of chemicals in the environment. Trigeminal somatosensory neurons enable us to detect a wide range of environmental stimuli, including pressure, temperature, and chemical irritants, within the oral and nasal mucosa. Natural plant-derived irritants have served as powerful pharmacological tools for identifying receptors underlying somatosensation. This is illustrated by the use of capsaicin, menthol, and wasabi to identify the heat-sensitive ion channel TRPV1, the cold-sensitive ion channel TRPM8, and the irritant receptor TRPA1, respectively. In addition to TRP channels, members of the two-pore potassium channel family have also been implicated in trigeminal chemosensation. KCNK18 was recently identified as a target for hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, the tingling and numbing compound produced in Schezuan peppers and other members of the Xanthoxylum genus. The role of these channels in trigeminal thermosensation and pain will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amides / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Capsaicin / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Menthol / pharmacology
  • Mustard Plant
  • Plant Oils / pharmacology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Taste Perception*
  • Trigeminal Nerve / drug effects
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiology*


  • Amides
  • Plant Oils
  • Menthol
  • sanshool
  • Capsaicin
  • mustard oil