Acidic solutions mimick many of the effects of capsaicin (Cap), including pain, bronchoconstriction, cough, and sensory neuropeptide release. Evidence from the use of the Cap antagonist capsazepine suggests that in some cases protons act at the Cap receptor. In the present study, we have investigated whether cough evoked by Cap and citric acid (CA) is mediated specifically via the Cap receptor on airway sensory nerves. We have examined the effects of capsazepine on Cap-, CA-, and hypertonic saline-induced cough and also on CA-induced nasal irritation in awake guinea pigs. Capsazepine was nebulized for 5 min before cough challenges with Cap for 5 min and CA for 10 min. Control animals were pretreated with vehicle alone. Capsazepine (100 microM) inhibited the cough response to 30 microM Cap from 0.77 +/- 0.14 coughs/min in control animals to 0.23 +/- 0.08 coughs/min (P < 0.05) and to 80 microM Cap from 1.4 +/- 0.23 to 0.3 +/- 0.11 coughs/min (P < 0.01). There was no effect, however, of lower concentrations of capsazepine (5 and 10 microM) against Cap-evoked cough. At a concentration of 100 microM, capsazepine also inhibited the coughing induced by 0.25 M CA from 1.8 +/- 0.26 to 0.93 +/- 0.31 coughs/min (P < 0.05) but not that induced by 0.5 M CA. Nasal irritation induced by 0.25 M CA, but not by 0.5 M CA, was also inhibited by capsazepine from 2.47 +/- 0.37 to 0.75 +/- 0.31 nose wipes/min (P < 0.05). This inhibitory effect of capsazepine did not appear to reflect a nonspecific suppression of the cough reflex, since cough evoked by exposure to hypertonic (7%) saline for 10 min was unaffected by pretreatment with capsazepine (100 microM). These data show that capsazepine is a specific inhibitor of Cap- and CA-induced cough in guinea pigs. Moreover, they suggest that low pH stimuli evoke cough and nasal irritation by an action at the Cap receptor, either directly or through the release of an intermediate agent.