Ibuprofen as a chemesthetic stimulus: Evidence of a novel mechanism of throat irritation

Paul A.S. Breslin, Tara N. Gingrich, Barry G. Green

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30 Scopus citations


This paper reports a study of the oral and pharyngeal chemesthetic effects of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) ibuprofen [2-(4-isobutylphenyl) propanoic acid], which pilot experiments had indicated produces an unusual sensory irritation of the throat. In experiment 1 subjects swallowed aqueous solutions of ibuprofen prepared with different buffering agents and gave ratings of irritation and taste in the mouth and throat. The results showed that ibuprofen irritates the throat much more than the mouth, and that its quality in the throat is characterized primarily as sting/prick, itch and tickle (often leading to cough). Based upon the results obtained with the different buffering agents, we hypothesized that the sting/prick/itch qualities of throat irritation were pH-dependent. Parametric manipulation of solution pH in experiment 2 confirmed this hypothesis. The same experiment revealed that, in contrast to other oral irritants (e.g. capsaicin and menthol), repeated stimulation caused neither sensitization nor desensitization of throat irritation. In the final experiment we found that ibuprofen's throat irritation could not be modulated by temperature, as it should be if stimulation occurred via capsaicin-sensitive receptors. We therefore conclude that ibuprofen has novel chemesthetic properties, which are not mediated by capsaicin-sensitive (vanilloid) receptors, and that a major component of the throat irritation it produces occurs via a pH-dependent receptor mechanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-65
Number of pages11
JournalChemical senses
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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