Modulation of oral heat and cold pain by irritant chemicals

Kelly C. Albin, Mirela Iodi Carstens, Earl Carstens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Common food irritants elicit oral heat or cool sensations via actions at thermosensitive transient receptor potential (TRP) channels. We used a half-tongue, 2-alternative forced-choice procedure coupled with bilateral pain intensity ratings to investigate irritant effects on heat and cold pain. The method was validated in a bilateral thermal difference detection task. Capsaicin, mustard oil, and cinnamaldehyde enhanced lingual heat pain elicited by a 49 °C stimulus. Mustard oil and cinnamaldehyde weakly enhanced lingual cold pain (9.5 °C), whereas capsaicin had no effect. Menthol significantly enhanced cold pain and weakly reduced heat pain. To address if capsaicin's effect was due to summation of perceptually similar thermal and chemical sensations, one-half of the tongue was desensitized by application of capsaicin. Upon reapplication, capsaicin elicited little or no irritant sensation yet still significantly enhanced heat pain on the capsaicin-treated side, ruling out summation. In a third experiment, capsaicin significantly enhanced pain ratings to graded heat stimuli (47 °C to 50 °C) resulting in an upward shift of the stimulus-response function. Menthol may induce cold hyperalgesia via enhanced thermal gating of TRPM8 in peripheral fibers. Capsaicin, mustard oil, and cinnanamdelyde may induce heat hyperalgesia via enhanced thermal gating of TRPV1 that is coexpressed with TRPA1 in peripheral nociceptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-15
Number of pages13
JournalChemical Senses
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Capsaicin
  • Cold pain
  • Heat pain
  • Menthol
  • Oral irritation
  • TRP channel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Food Science
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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