Cough is a protective reflex and defence mechanism in healthy individuals, which helps clear excessive secretions and foreign material from the lungs. Cough often presents as the first and most persistent symptom of many respiratory diseases and some non-respiratory disorders, but can also be idiopathic, and is a common respiratory complaint for which medical attention is sought. Chronic cough of various aetiologies is a regular presentation to specialist respiratory clinics, and is reported as a troublesome symptom by a significant proportion of the population. Despite this, the treatment options for cough are limited. The lack of effective anti-tussives likely stems from our incomplete understanding of how the tussive reflex is mediated. However, research over the last decade has begun to shed some light on the mechanisms which provoke cough, and may ultimately provide us with better anti-tussive therapies. This review will focus on the in vitro and in vivo models that are currently used to further our understanding of the sensory innervation of the respiratory tract, and how these nerves are involved in controlling the cough response. Central to this are the Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) ion channels, a family of polymodal receptors that can be activated by such diverse stimuli as chemicals, temperature, osmotic stress, and mechanical perturbation. These ion channels are thought to be molecular pain integrators and targets for novel analgesic agents for the treatment of various pain disorders but some are also being developed as anti-tussives.
Keywords: Airway disease; Cough; Respiratory pharmacology; Sensory nerve; Transient receptor potential.
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