Targeting TRP channels for chronic cough: from bench to bedside

Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2015 Apr;388(4):401-20. doi: 10.1007/s00210-014-1082-1. Epub 2015 Jan 10.


Cough is currently the most common reason for patients to visit a primary care physician in the UK, yet it remains an unmet medical need. Current therapies have limited efficacy or have potentially dangerous side effects. Under normal circumstances, cough is a protective reflex to clear the lungs of harmful particles; however, in disease, cough can become excessive, dramatically impacting patients' lives. In many cases, this condition is linked to inflammatory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but can also be refractory to treatment and idiopathic in nature. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop therapies, and targeting the sensory afferent arm of the reflex which initiates the cough reflex may uncover novel therapeutic targets. The cough reflex is initiated following activation of ion channels present on vagal sensory afferents. These ion channels include the transient receptor potential (TRP) family of cation-selective ion channels which act as cellular sensors and respond to changes in the external environment. Many direct activators of TRP channels, including arachidonic acid derivatives, a lowered airway pH, changes in temperature, and altered airway osmolarity are present in the diseased airway where responses to challenge agents which activate airway sensory nerve activity are known to be enhanced. Furthermore, the expression of some TRP channels is increased in airway disease. Together, this makes them promising targets for the treatment of chronic cough. This review will cover the current understanding of the role of the TRP family of ion channels in the activation of airway sensory nerves and cough, focusing on four members, transient receptor potential vanilloid (TRPV) 1, transient receptor potential ankyrin (TRPA) 1, TRPV4, and transient receptor potential melastatin (TRPM) 8 as these represent the channels where most information has been gathered with relevance to the airways. We will describe recent data and highlight the possible therapeutic utility of specific TRP channel antagonists as antitussives in the clinic.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cough / diagnosis
  • Cough / drug therapy
  • Cough / metabolism*
  • Cough / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Lung / innervation
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Lung / physiology
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels / agonists
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels / metabolism*


  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels