Capsaicin-evoked cough responses in asthmatic patients: Evidence for airway neuronal dysfunction

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Cough in asthmatic patients is a common and troublesome symptom. It is generally assumed coughing occurs as a consequence of bronchial hyperresponsiveness and inflammation, but the possibility that airway nerves are dysfunctional has not been fully explored.


We sought to investigate capsaicin-evoked cough responses in a group of patients with well-characterized mild-to-moderate asthma compared with healthy volunteers and assess the influences of sex, atopy, lung physiology, inflammation, and asthma control on these responses.


Capsaicin inhalational challenge was performed, and cough responses were analyzed by using nonlinear mixed-effects modeling to estimate the maximum cough response evoked by any concentration of capsaicin (Emax) and the capsaicin dose inducing half-maximal response (ED50).


Ninety-seven patients with stable asthma (median age, 23 years [interquartile range, 21-27 years]; 60% female) and 47 healthy volunteers (median age, 38 years [interquartile range, 29-47 years]; 64% female) were recruited. Asthmatic patients had higher Emax and lower ED50 values than healthy volunteers. Emax values were 27% higher in female subjects (P= .006) and 46% higher in patients with nonatopic asthma (P= .003) compared with healthy volunteers. Also, patients with atopic asthma had a 21% lower Emax value than nonatopic asthmatic patients (P= .04). The ED50 value was 65% lower in female patients (P= .0001) and 71% lower in all asthmatic patients (P= .0008). ED50 values were also influenced by asthma control and serum IgE levels, whereas Emax values were related to 24-hour cough frequency. Age, body mass index, FEV1, PC20, fraction of exhaled nitric oxide, blood eosinophil counts, and inhaled steroid treatment did not influence cough parameters.


Patients with stable asthma exhibited exaggerated capsaicin-evoked cough responses consistent with neuronal dysfunction. Nonatopic asthmatic patients had the highest cough responses, suggesting this mechanism might be most important in type 2–low asthma phenotypes.

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