The cough response following inhalation challenge with the sensory nerve irritant resiniferatoxin was compared with that of capsaicin and citric acid in guinea-pig and man. Capsaicin and citric acid gave comparable dose-response curves in the two species. The mean (+/- SEM) concentration producing five coughs in man was 141.3 (1.3) mM (n = 10) for citric acid and 2.8 (1.3) microM (n = 10) for capsaicin. Those for the guinea-pig were 74.1 (1.2) mM (n = 10) for citric acid and 6.0 (2.4) microM (n = 10) for capsaicin. Resiniferatoxin was active at a lower concentration than either citric acid or capsaicin and maximal tolerable cough response was achieved at concentrations of 3 microM (n = 5) in guinea-pig and 300 nM (n = 1) in man. The cough response to resiniferatoxin was greatly prolonged in both guinea-pig and man. Resiniferatoxin, like capsaicin, caused respiratory distress in the guinea-pig which is linked to bronchoconstriction. Resiniferatoxin probably causes cough by stimulation of capsaicin sensitive neurones.