The aim of the present study was to investigate the voluntary suppression of cough in response to capsaicin inhalation in healthy volunteers, and to determine if the dose-response curve to capsaicin was significantly altered when volunteers were asked to suppress their cough response. The quantification of the degree of voluntary suppression of induced cough could provide a new methodology for screening antitussive agents as antitussives may act by influencing voluntary control of cough. Cough was induced by inhalation of capsaicin. Two challenges were given 5 min apart, each comprising five ascending concentrations of capsaicin (1 x 10(-5) M-3.33 x 10(-4) M). During one of these challenges the volunteer was allowed to cough when required, and during the other they were asked to suppress cough. These two conditions were given in random order. The cough response was recorded by means of a microphone with the integrated sound trace displayed on a chart recorder. A dose-response relationship was obtained on administration of ascending concentrations of capsaicin. In the non-suppressed challenge 23/24 subjects coughed on inhalation of capsaicin (3.33 x 10(-4) M) with a mean number of coughs of 2.92 +/- 0.34, whereas in the suppressed challenge only 3/24 subjects coughed with a mean number of coughs of 0.29 +/- 0.18 (P < 0.001). These results demonstrate that cough induced by inhalation of capsaicin can be voluntarily suppressed. The mechanism of voluntary suppression of cough is discussed in relation to capsaicin challenge and the screening of antitussive medications.