Chemosensory properties of the trigeminal system

ACS Chem Neurosci. 2011 Jan 19;2(1):38-50. doi: 10.1021/cn100102c. Epub 2010 Dec 22.


The capacity of cutaneous, including trigeminal endings, to detect chemicals is known as chemesthesis or cutaneous chemosensation. This sensory function involves the activation of nociceptor and thermoreceptor endings and has a protective or defensive function, as many of these substances are irritants or poisonous. However, humans have also developed a liking for the distinct sharpness or pungency of many foods, beverages, and spices following activation of the same sensory afferents. Our understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of chemosensation in the trigeminal system has experienced enormous progress in the past decade, following the cloning and functional characterization of several ion channels activated by physical and chemical stimuli. This brief review attempts to summarize our current knowledge in this field, including a functional description of various sensory channels, especially TRP channels, involved in trigeminal chemosensitivy. Finally, some of these new findings are discussed in the context of the pathophysiology of trigeminal chemosensation, including pain, pruritus, migraine, cough, airway inflammation, and ophthalmic diseases.

Keywords: Chemestesis; KCNK; TRP channel; TRPA1; TRPM8; TRPV1; TRPV2; TRPV3; asthma; capsaicin; cough; dry eye; menthol; pain; pungency; spices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / chemistry
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • TRPV Cation Channels / physiology
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Trigeminal Ganglion / chemistry
  • Trigeminal Ganglion / physiology
  • Trigeminal Nerve / chemistry
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiology*


  • TRPV Cation Channels
  • TRPV1 protein, human