The Role of TRP Channels in Nicotinic Provoked Pain and Irritation from the Oral Cavity and Throat: Translating Animal Data to Humans

Nicotine Tob Res. 2022 Nov 12;24(12):1849-1860. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntac054.


Tobacco smoking-related diseases are estimated to kill more than 8 million people/year and most smokers are willing to stop smoking. The pharmacological approach to aid smoking cessation comprises nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and inhibitors of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, which is activated by nicotine. Common side effects of oral NRT products include hiccoughs, gastrointestinal disturbances and, most notably, irritation, burning and pain in the mouth and throat, which are the most common reasons for premature discontinuation of NRT and termination of cessation efforts. Attempts to reduce the unwanted sensory side effects are warranted, and research discovering the most optimal masking procedures is urgently needed. This requires a firm mechanistic understanding of the neurobiology behind the activation of sensory nerves and their receptors by nicotine. The sensory nerves in the oral cavity and throat express the so-called transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, which are responsible for mediating the nicotine-evoked irritation, burning and pain sensations. Targeting the TRP channels is one way to modulate the unwanted sensory side effects. A variety of natural (Generally Recognized As Safe [GRAS]) compounds interact with the TRP channels, thus making them interesting candidates as safe additives to oral NRT products. The present narrative review will discuss (1) current evidence on how nicotine contributes to irritation, burning and pain in the oral cavity and throat, and (2) options to modulate these unwanted side-effects with the purpose of increasing adherence to NRT. Nicotine provokes irritation, burning and pain in the oral cavity and throat. Managing these side effects will ensure better compliance to oral NRT products and hence increase the success of smoking cessation. A specific class of sensory receptors (TRP channels) are involved in mediating nicotine's sensory side effects, making them to potential treatment targets. Many natural (Generally Recognized As Safe [GRAS]) compounds are potentially beneficial modulators of TRP channels.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Mouth
  • Nicotine / adverse effects
  • Nicotinic Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Pain
  • Pharynx
  • Smoking Cessation* / methods
  • Tobacco Use Cessation Devices
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels*


  • Nicotine
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels